It was Rachel who picked Adrienne up at the hospital. They were silent for a long time on the way back. Finally Rachel could stand the suspense no longer.
“Did Brandon send you away?”
Adrienne nodded, choking back tears. “He thinks I’m responsible for his father’s death.”
Rachel frowned. “Is that what he said?”
Adrienne shook her head, not trusting her voice.
“Then how do you know?” Rachel persisted.
“He barely talked to me. He just kept staring at the floor. The only thing he had to say to me was that I should get you or Julia to pick me up.”
Rachel was quiet for a few minutes. Finally she spoke again. “You should have stayed there with him, Adrienne.”
Adrienne stared at her. “But he asked me to leave.”
Rachel nodded. “Did you protest?”
“Of course not,” Adrienne answered with surprise.
Rachel maneuvered the turn onto the main highway. “Then you don’t know if he was merely giving you an opportunity to leave.”
Was that what he was doing? No, his expression didn’t look expectant. It looked . . . cold – detached.
“I think they wanted some privacy,” Adrienne finally said.
Rachel glanced at her for a moment. “Well, maybe. But don’t let him shut you out. He needs you right now, whether he knows it or not.”
Shutting her out was exactly what Brandon was doing. Maybe for the moment, maybe forever. She would offer her support, but she wouldn’t force herself on him. If he wanted the relationship to end, she wasn’t going to cling to him shamelessly.
“You know what I think,” Rachel said.
“I think you’re the one who is placing the blame on yourself. It isn’t your fault, you know. If you had left when Brandon wanted you to, you still couldn’t have done anything. Mr. Marsh is the one who is responsible. He refused to stay on his diet. He refused to go to the doctor. So stop blaming yourself.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Adrienne conceded without conviction. It was all too logical. Deep inside she did feel responsible, but not for Mr. Marsh’s death. She felt responsible for the fact that Brandon didn’t have that last day with his father.
They all attended the funeral on Wednesday, and Brandon had little to say to any of them. It was understandable, though. He stayed at his mother’s side, comforting her. Mrs. Marsh had found one last reserve of uncontrollable sobs. It must have been all Brandon could do to retain his own composure, let alone make small talk.
Adrienne didn’t see or hear from Brandon again until Friday, when he showed up unexpectedly and started packing clothes. Julia and Rachel were out shopping, and she stood in his doorway, not sure what to say. Finally she plunged into conversation with him.
“What are you doing?”
He never even looked up. “I'm moving back home for a while,” he answered emotionlessly.
Adrienne stared at him. "But your schooling."
"I can finish that later," he answered coldly. "Mom needs me right now."
Adrienne caught her breath. "But you have less than a month to go. Surely she would understand. Have you discussed this with her? I can't believe she would want you to sacrifice . . ."
"It isn't a sacrifice, Adrienne," He interrupted shortly.
His voice was so harsh that Adrienne took a step backward. No. He wasn’t going to do this. It was too important – to both of them.
"Of course it is. You've planned this all your life. You must feel awful about it."
He glared at her. "I feel awful that Dad had to die because I put my education before his health. I'm not going to put it before Mom. My education can wait, she can't."
Adrienne reached out and touched his arm. "Brandon, you're father died because he wouldn't go to the doctor. He died because it was his time. You're not responsible." When he continued to stare at her, she added, "And neither am I."
He paused with a shirt in his hand, his expression surprised. "I never said you were."
Her eyes burned in warning and she looked away. "No, I was the one saying that."
He dropped the shirt and stepped over to her. Turning her head, he lifted her chin and gazed into her eyes. "So, that's why you've been shutting me out.”
She stared at him. She was shutting him out? "I’ve called you every day since the funeral.”
He nodded. “But you didn’t come up. At the funeral, you didn’t even set with us. Do you know how that made me feel? I thought . . . “
“That I was being my usual selfish self?” she prompted.
He took her face in both hands. “I didn’t say that. I didn’t think that. Don’t put words in my mouth – or foolish thoughts in your head.”
She threw her arms around his neck and pressed her cheek against him. “Oh, Brandon," she moaned. “When you sent me away at the hospital, I thought you were through with me.”
His hands gripped her shoulders and pulled her back so that he could see her face. Charcoal eyes burned into hers. “I didn’t send you away . . . did I?” He shook his head. “I don’t know what I did at the hospital. All I know is . . . all of the sudden you were walking away from me – right when I needed you the most.”
Tears burned her eyes and her lower lip trembled. “I’m so sorry. I wanted to stay, but I thought you wanted to be alone with your mother.”
He gazed down at her. “This has been hard for you, as well. I guess I wasn’t thinking about . . .” He stopped and drew her close again. “Sweetheart, let’s not let this come between us. I’ll call you and come down on weekends.”
She clung to him, unable to trust her voice or thoughts. “I love you,” she finally managed.
“I love you too,” he responded tersely, and then started to cry.
She stroked his hair and kissed his forehead, while tears coursed down her cheeks as well. Nothing she had ever experienced in her life was more painful than that moment, knowing his pain and not being able to say a thing to help. Maybe it wasn't necessary to say anything. All this time he had to remain strong for his mother. Now, here with her, he had finally felt comfortable enough to release his emotions. She should have been there for him.
Later she helped him pack his things in the car. She wanted to ask him how long he would stay at the ranch, but she couldn't think of a way to word the question that didn't sound insensitive. At this point, he probably didn't know anyway.
She stood in the road after he left, watching until he turned a corner and drove out of sight. Finally, she turned and sauntered back into the apartment.
When Julie & Rachel returned, she told them that Brandon would be out at the ranch for a while.
Julie shook her head in disbelief. “What can he do out there right now that he couldn’t do a month and a half from now.”
Rachel frowned at Julie. “You can be a cold fish, sometimes. You know that?”
Adrienne gasped. It simply wasn’t like Rachel to talk that way. Not that it wasn’t true – simply unexpected.
Julie shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s true. A few years from now, he’ll be regretting this.”
“I doubt it,” Adrienne finally said. “Like he said; he only has one mother, and he can finish his schooling later.”
Julie gave Adrienne a shrewd look. “Sure, if he isn’t saddled with a wife and a couple of kids. Face it. He’s gone back to that farm, and that’s where he’ll stay. A plow boy could never fit in with your citified ideas anyway.”
Adrienne felt the rage tearing at her lungs, plucking at her nerves until she wanted to twist Julie’s neck off. She clamped her jaws together and silently counted to ten before she responded.
“He’s not a plow boy, and he will finish his schooling.”
Rachel was giving Julie a strange look. “Why Julie, I do believe you’re jealous!”
Julie swung around and glared at Rachel. “I’m not jealous. It’s just that . . . well, she doesn’t understand him,” she stammered.
Adrienne stared at Julie, and then at Rachel. Julie turned and ran to her bedroom, slamming the door.
Rachel gazed reflectively at the door. “Well, I’ll be. Who would have guessed?”
Adrienne shrugged. She certainly wouldn’t have. Had Brandon? Probably not.
Rachel patted her on the shoulder. “You’re right. Brandon is no plow boy.” She hesitated. “But I think Julie is right about one thing. I don’t believe Brandon will ever come back here to finish his schooling.”
Adrienne frowned. “But he said he was going to finish his schooling. I mean, it would be utterly irresponsible to get this far and then not complete it.”
Rachel nodded. “Oh, I’m sure he intends to. But Julie may have more understanding of Brandon’s internal works than you give her credit for.”
“Brandon isn’t a quitter,” Adrienne barked.
Rachel laughed. “No, he sure isn’t. That’s why he can’t leave that ranch.”
“You mean he thinks that he has to take care of his mother, now that his father is gone?”
Rachel shook her head. “No. Think about it. When you went up to visit his parents, how much time did you spend with them, and how much time did you spend on the ranch?”
Adrienne wasn’t sure she liked the drift of the conversation. Sure, they had spent more time wandering on the ranch, but that was only because Brandon wanted to get her alone. But then, he didn’t have to travel that many miles to get her alone.
Rachel smiled. “Don’t look so betrayed. I’m sure you’ll fit into his plans.”
His plans? But what about hers? They didn’t include eking out a living on a run-down ranch and Brandon knew that. Brandon must have wanted something different as well. Otherwise, why would he have gone to college? Why would he have chosen to major in computer technology instead of animal husbandry? No, he’d be back, and he’d finish his schooling.
Adrienne shrugged. “I guess we’ll see.”READ MORE >>