Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Virgins Club, Volume 2

Remember this? And this? It seems that it completely slipped my mind! Please enjoy installment two...

  Chapter Two
What does a sinecurist do when he retires.  This was the question which Frederick Paxton II was pondering this fine January morning.   His delighted conclusion was that he would do pretty much the same thing he did during his working life.  Golf and martini lunches at the country club.  Presiding over the local philatelists society.  Tending the orchards at Winbrook.  Occasional intrusions of his wife and nearly grown daughters during school holidays.  Winbrook was a large house, so large that he really didn't have to deal with Miriam and the girls on a daily basis.  Children and family were such a tedious aspect of life although necessary in the public eye.  Fred much preferred board meetings where he would be treated with the reverence and respect his name demanded.  Fred knew that his purpose at Paxton Industries was little more than figurehead but he was the heir to the family throne and did own controlling stock in the company.  He still worked in the shadow of his dead father and his beloved retired mother.  His signature was required on the bottom line for all major executive decisions and Fred knew enough to surround himself with a circle of advisors who were bright and savvy and loyal enough to give the old man his due.  Yes, thought Fred, my family duties are waning just as my leisure time is increasing.
Fred Paxton was something of an oddity, sort of a living aristocratic fossil who seemed to belong to an earlier time.  He wasn't comfortable with people and had never had to deal with them much , the family's wealth gave him quite a comfortable cushion to fall back on so he had never learned to be social out of necessity.  Add to that the fact that he was an only child who grew up primarily in the company of governesses and "the help" , how his mother referred to the various household workers who took care of the small and large chores that most ordinary people do for themselves, Freddie had become quite a recluse.  He had gone away to The University of Minnesota and attained a bachelor's degree in Arts and Sciences with a major in English Literature.  He considered graduate school because the academic life appealed to him.  Soon after graduation Freddie was disappointed to learn that his further schooling was to be indefinitely delayed.  His father was in failing health and his mother had summoned him home.
"Oh, Freddie, whatever will  we do without your father?"  Winifred Paxton's voice trailed off into a sigh, a sort of universal sigh expressing all that she was feeling at the moment.  She had walked the length and breadth of the Winbrook Estate in the past weeks until her shoes nearly knew the way through the gardens and orchard and the riverside all by themselves.  She had a number of things to contemplate and didn't seem to be able to think them through while sitting still.  So she walked.  And walked.  And walked to the point that Freddie, usually so wound up in his own self-serving tribulations, was concerned about his mother who until Fred Sr. had taken ill had spent little time outdoors.  Winifred thought the old bastard would never die.  He had never in the forty-five year duration of their marriage been laid low by disease, even so much as a cold.  She had come to the conclusion that he was entirely too nasty to get sick.  Common bacteria and viruses were no match for her husband's iron constitution and vinegar-based blood.  
But he was bad tempered.  And eventually the anger in him had eaten away at his system until he suffered a massive heart attack that had been followed by a number of maladies, most recently fluid in his lungs that was a constant worry should full-blown pneumonia set in.  Winifred felt alternately elated and sickened.  She was about to become a very wealthy woman who would finally have peace and quiet  but it would be only because her tormentor was dead.  There had been quiet before but no peace.  Fred had a peculiar ability developed and perfected over time to humiliate his wife and shrink her into near nonexistance by uttering only a few demeaning words.  He had only needed to strike her on the odd occasion when she would insist on defying him.  Or when she seemed happy.  He truly could not abide her quiet happiness when she had arranged a vase of flowers just so or had made the effort to go into the kitchen and cook something for him.  Her happiness ripped at his insides like a rusty razor and he felt a rage wash over him that could not be denied and he found himself doing whatever was necessary to remove that lovely, tender smile from Winifred's porcelain doll face.  When your soul is black and boundless and you don't possess the ability to experience love and joy it is the greatest vexation to be faced with someone who can do these things effortlessly.  He had put up a good front when they were dating but the courtship was short and the honeymoon shorter.  Fred had managed to win her over but then it was back to the business of making a living and trying to build something for himself. Freddie was the only child produced from this loveless marriage and even if genetics had graced him with more of his mother's qualities than his father's his environment would still have turned him into the odd man that he eventually became.
Fred Sr. lingered on in the hospital.  Over the months his various maladies reduced him to a skin and bones version of his former, hearty self.  Only his meathook sized hands remained as an indicator of his earlier proportions.  Those cruel hands that now lay so still against the crisp hospital sheets.  Sustained by intravenous fluids and medications and a feeding tube inserted down his throat he slowly wasted away.  As he lost vitality, Winifred somehow gained vigor and began to take an interest in things that she had only observed from the fringes before.  Winifred came to discover that she had quite a good business sense.  And she knew instinctively how to treat people to get the most out of them.  With Freddie at her side she gained confidence and slowly won the trust of her dying husband's business associates.  She was like a fresh breeze through the corridors of Paxton Industries.  Where Fred Sr. had ruled like an iron-fisted dictator Winifred came to meetings knowing what was going on in employees' personal lives.  She assigned tasks and rearranged company postions to those best suited for them and was generous in allowing time off for family reasons.  Her only fault was making things too easy for Freddie.  When Fred Sr. finally succumbed it was Freddie who inherited his father's office and title, not Winifred.  Everyone knew who had really been responsible for transforming the company but Freddie got to wear the crown.
For ten years Winifred and Fred Jr. worked to improve the processing and packaging of the locally grown potatoes and sugar beets into chips and frozen french fries and refined sugar products.  Then Winifred chose to direct her energies toward local charity work.  She officially retired from Paxton Industries and with a healthy portion of her wealth endowed the Winifred Paxton Society and went about altering the Walsh River community for the better with the same smart and humanitarian sense she had used in business dealings.                  
He looked up at the mantle clock in his study as it chimed the hour of eleven AM and began carefully tucking away his stamp collection.   This afternoon was one family function he could not escape as today was the fifteenth anniversary of the day he had married Miriam Anderson.  Fred would have preferred to have had the party at the country club or one of the downtown hotels but Miriam had insisted that the festivities be held at Winbrook.  "Really, Fred," Miriam had cajoled, "it's an opportunity to open our home to the community.  We are pillars of the community, both socially and financially, let's at least look like  a real family, even if it's for only one afternoon."  Fred had let Miriam have her way, he could think of no logical reason not to, she had kept up her end of things.  She had given him heirs although not one of them was a son.  She had kept up appearances for the family's sake over the years as he had withdrawn from them and took solace in his hobbies.  Miriam knew what Fred was when she married him and had only the lingering vestiges of fondness for him.   She took great pride in her daughters and their accomplishments and enjoyed the status her marriage provided.  And she had found an unexpected true friend in her mother-in-law, with whom she worked on charitable and educational causes.  Miriam was aware that she wasn't happily married but it was through Fred that she had gained everything that was meaningful in her life.  It was just one of those trade-offs in life you come to accept, she supposed.  Miriam smiled at the closed door of her husband's study as she passed.  She needed to check on the progress of the party preparations in the kitchen and to hurry the girls toward donning their new dresses.  Miriam smiled again, this time to herself.  Yes, it was going to be quite a party.
                                                          Chapter Three
A delicate, peculiar balance exists in the relationship between fathers and daughters.  The tug and pull of their love for one another and their attachment to one another is a tide that is always in flux.  The level of their comfort together is determined in part by the varying length of the leash that the daughter tests the limits of daily as she matures.  Under daddy's watchful eye the heavenly creature of an infant is replaced by a bounding swirl of arms and legs and too-long bangs over wide open eyes.  The little girl in her Easter ruffly best dress perched on his arm like an enormous flower in bloom becomes overnight a startlingly sexual young woman in a prom dress who in an instant can be reduced to that child state once more when consumed by an avalanche of giggles.  He is torn between protecting her from all the dangers of the cruel world and letting her go just enough so she can acheive independence.
Most people who knew the family thought that August Parker treated his younger daughter Josie a bit too attentively.  Not that there was any evidence of any funny business going on, it was just that when anyone was to casually observe the two of them together there were undercurrents to their interactions that made you feel, well, uncomfortable.  Maybe they were a little too close to each other, but with everything that had gone wrong with the two older Parker children maybe August was just making an effort to be there for Josie.  Most folks hadn't paid much attention to their relationship until Josie sprouted breasts and then their collective dirty minds went to work.  Even though she was blessed with a lovely face and gorgeous skin anyone would have to admit that her most remarkable feature was her chest.  Josie's breasts literally burst from her at the relatively young age of twelve and a half.  It took only eighteen months for her to make the leap from an undershirt to to a 34D underwire with the wide shoulder straps and an industrial strength three hook back..  It may have been the sudden debut of those huge breasts relative to her slight frame that sparked August's seemingly unwholesome interest in her, at least in the mind of the casual observer.   
If you went by Josie's account, she thought her relationship with her father was wonderful.  They could talk about anything, they went fishing and out for ice cream together.  She couldn't see the difference between catching your limit of lake trout with dad or eating a hot fudge sundae with dad.  Or wrestling with dad.  Josie and her father had wrestled and tickled on the living room floor since she had been a tot.  In plain view of family members who cheered them on.  Except for mom.  Mom had always discouraged rough play in the house because she was the Mom.  Somebody had to be the grown-up.  She saw and was only too aware of what was going on between her husband and younger daughter, the unwholesome display of the two of them cavorting on the carpeting was something she observed and tolerated and hoped didn't go any further.  She only had the faintest twinge of pain anymore over being excluded from their charmed little velvet bubble.  She accepted that she and August slept in separate beds because they required vastly different mattress densities.  Her princess and the pea delicate skin couldn't tolerate the rock-hard mattress that his bad back required.  DeeDee chose the easier route 
because it was, well, easier.  See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.  
The headaches that had plagued her since she was a teen had recently been diagnosed as migraine headaches, it was no wonder that no over the counter medication had worked for her.  The recently prescribed Valium was helpful, it alleviated the vice-like pressure on her skull as well as any anxiety she had been experiencing.  She no longer felt the need to examine and reexamine the troubling aspects of her life.  DeeDee's capacity to overthink everything had been the one personality trait that most irritated her husband, and now that it had disappeared she seemed to as well.  Faded and fragile she was relieved that August mostly ignored her.  As long as the meals appeared on the table and the clean towels grew up in a fluffy pile from the linen closet shelf  there were no complaints.  Josie  was old enough to take care of herself and was at an age where she really didn't want her mother's advice anyway.  She had daddy and that was more than enough.  
Innocent and more aware than anyone gave her credit for Josie easily carried the burdens of her trendily disfunctional family.  Dad was too attentive, Mom had a vacancy sign posted on her forehead, and she had the thankless task thrust upon her of making up for her errant older siblings.  All she wanted to do was not disappoint her father.  She wanted to be a Good Girl.  She wanted daddy to be able to proudly walk her down the aisle of the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in all her white dress virginal glory and turn her over to another deserving man.  First she would go to college and would probably graduate or maybe just get married to the right boy but mostly she needed to atone for what Annie and Ethan had done.  Josie saw how they had broken his heart and she was the only one left to fix things for him.  It was the least she could do to stay out of trouble, both the legal and pregnant varieties.  It never occurred to her that she should expect more out of life.  She harbored fears that the same delinquent blood  that had led Annie and Ethan astray ran in her veins as well.  She felt that she was one step away from that slippery slope of disappointing her parents.  As long as she behaved, as long as she didn't take that first step off the narrow path she had pledged to herself to follow she would be okay.     
Josie's older sister Annie had always walked on the wild side.  At sixteen she found herself pregnant and after attempting to discuss her predicament in a rational fashion with her parents had left home in the middle of the night.  DeeDee cried while August ranted and raved and threw some furniture around.  Ten-year-old Josie watched in solemn silence from the upstairs landing shadows as her adored sister cowered in the overstuffed chair near the fireplace.  August stormed out of the room and was heard rattling things out in the garage.  Annie moved from the chair to be near her mother on the couch. They held each other and mourned their individual and combined losses in the quiet in the eye of the storm atmosphere in the living room.  In that moment Josie longed to run to them and bury herself in the comfort of their common femininity.  Her meditation of motion was cut short by her father's blustery return from the garage with a steel garbage can in tow.  August scoured the mantelpiece and piano top for any photographs containing Annie's image and without words or expression calmly disposed of all of them in the trash can.  He methodically smashed the frames and glass of the group pictures and edited Annie from them with his pocket knife and returned the altered photo to its original place.  August continued his cleansing journey through the entire main floor of the house. When he returned the garbage can to the garage they heard his Jeep start up and back down the driveway.  DeeDee 
tucked her terrified daughters into bed and fell asleep beside Josie in her ruffly canopied bed.  She vaguely remembered later that she had heard the backdoor creak and had assumed it was her husband coming home.  Well, he could just sleep on that old, hard bed by himself, she thought.  They had been looking at purchasing a new king-size bed but as far as DeeDee was concerned it was going to be twin beds for them from now on.
Annie quietly cursed the squeaky back door as she left that night.  She had looked in on her mother and sister peacefully cuddled together in the nightlight's glow and said a small prayer for their safety.  I love you so much, Josie-Posie, she whispered as she turned toward the stairs.  Ethan was not yet home from Friday night revelries at the Mills so when Annie was nowhere to be found the next morning he had to piece the story together from rumors he had heard around school and Josie's accounting of the night before.  August declared at the dinner table that night that Annie's name was never to be mentioned and that as far as he was concerned he now had only two children.  
Saturday morning Josie had crept into the garage and resurrected  Annie's pictures from the trash.  She placed them in a large shoebox  and hid it among the boxes of Barbie doll clothes and accessories in the back of her closet.  Annie was gone but not forgotten.  Josie often wondered about the fate of her sister and the baby she carried.  She fantasized about meeting her neice or nephew someday because that was the only outcome she found acceptable.  By the time she was in high school herself and was aware of birth control and if that failed "getting rid of it" she felt sad and horrified for her sister.  In those days prior to Roe v. Wade it was just too grim to contemplate her sweet Annie seeking out some horrible doctor armed with dirty instruments and soon to be bloodied newspapers.  She preferred to think of Annie giving the baby up for adoption or maybe even raising the child herself.  Josie had counted weeks on the calendar and arrived at what she thought was a probable birthdate, maybe around Thanksgiving.  Each year she secretly observed what she called her "auntie anniversary" by pulling the box from the back of her closet and placing a birthday candle inside.  Someone had to remember.  
The same spring that Annie left home their brother Ethan graduated from High School.  May 1968 was a cause for celebration in the Parker household, their eldest child was a local legend, an outstanding athlete and honor student whose accomplishments gave August and DeeDee an opportunity to forget and wax over their recent problems by throwing an enormous party for their son.  It was a little too convenient to think the gossip over their middle child could be buried under under the festivities in honor of their first but the Parkers slipped on a happy face and chose to view things that way.  August smiled and shook hands and slapped backs for the endurance of the party.  DeeDee was gracious though her hands were cold and trembled ever so slightly.  A little vodka in the celebratory punch helped warm her and to still that tremor.  Josie alternated between hovering at her mother's side and trying to find a quiet place to sit and gobble the chocolates she had secreted into a napkin and tucked into the waistband of her halfslip.  Pulling the napkin out from under her dress and opening it up she traced her finger over the gold embossed letters.  CONGRATULATIONS ETHAN.  CLASS OF 1968.  Just as she popped the chocolate covered almond into her mouth Ethan was beside her and swooping her up in his arms.  Josie giggled with delight as he carried her across the grass to show her off to his latest girlfriend.  She loved Ethan without reserve just as she loved Annie.  And soon he, too, would be 
Ethan was on his way to playing Ivy League hockey on a scholarship.  Walsh River lived and breathed hockey and for the most part was willing to overlook the blemish of Annie's recent crises in the light of having a local favorite son play their favorite game for a big name university.  The privilege of basking in Ethan's reflected glory was a fair trade for Annie's respectability.  Hockey was to Walsh River as basketball is to Hoosiers, as football is to Texans.  Ethan had played on four state high school championship teams, leading them as a co-captain in his junior year and captain in his senior year.  He was the king bullfrog in a small pond who was about to be thrown into the ocean.  He dealt well with the pressures of playing as well as studying, he even returned home the first two summers to assist with hockey camp for the local peewee league.  But something slipped that final year and it was anyone's guess whether the drinking started because of the knee injury that severely cut short his time on the ice or whether imbibing too much the night before an early season practice caused him to recklessly misjudge sliding into a pileup near the goal.  Soon it became apparent that something was very wrong, he said the pain medication the team doctor supplied him with just didn't do the job, that the throbbing in his leg just wouldn't let up. The swelling that followed the surgery to stabilize his left knee had subsided but the only time it felt alright was in the whirlpool in the sports therapy room.  An athletic trainer who had worked with Ethan on some exersizes to strengthen his injured knee was helping him out of the whirlpool one afternoon.  As he slapped a vial and syringe into Ethan's hand he said, "Man, don't say anything about where you got this, but if it helps I can put you in touch with a steady supply."
"Hey, I don't know how to use this, where do I shoot it?  Is it safe?" Ethan asked.
"It'll work wherever you shoot it, just don't let anyone see you.  My advice is to make friends with a nursing student.  Sure, it's safe, look at the label, it's pharmaceutical quality, man.  Like I said, if it does the trick I can set you up."
Ethan attended practice and watched from the stands as he made some attempt at studying for midterms.  The needle had become his friend as the substance it delivered dulled his pain and eased his anxiety.  The drugs were pricey and procuring them was the primary source of his anxiety lately.  He had learned quickly that his increasing habit was more affordable when he made the leap up the ladder from user to dealer.  He needed to stockpile enough so he could go home for Thanksgiving.  He needed to look good for mom and dad,  his prospects for playing professional hockey in Europe were pretty much washed up at this point but there were a couple of opportunities to coach, at least he could still be close to the game even if he couldn't play.  He just needed to heal up his knee and get off the crutches, the pain was actually subsiding, he knew he could kick the drugs soon, maybe over Christmas break.  For now it would just be easier, he had a plan, he just needed to stick to it.
Walsh River was a peculiar place to come home to.  Maybe anyplace was after you had been away awhile.  Ethan raised his seat back to the upright position for landing and looked out the window.  Besides his own reflection he saw the lights on the runway as they banked into the landing approach.  As the plane leveled he saw the lights of his hometown as they spread off into 
the distance.  Further than he had thought they would, but even though things look smaller to someone who is coming home, Walsh River was enjoying a steady growth.  Local oil exploration had been successful and a boom of sorts had added several hundred people to the local population consisting of oilfield workers and their families and all those related to the support of the industry.  Those apartment buildings August Parker had invested in were now full and he was scrambling to bring in construction crews to build two more.  August was also a partner in putting up two large mobile home courts that he had had to fight through the municipal zoning board.  Tacky, bad element, an eyesore to the community.  August and his investment partners saw only the cashflow aspects to the enterprise and were successful in their arguments that it was the quickest way to get needed housing in for the new families until homes and apartments could be built.  Ethan didn't feel as though he had been away long enough for so much to have happened.  He was excited about seeing Josie, it had been almost a year and a half since he had seen her.  His baby sister.  He relished the thought of putting some fear into the hearts of any boys who might be hanging around.  As if their father hadn't already done that.
"Do you need any assistance, sir?  A wheelchair or shuttle ride to the baggage claim?" 
Ethan glanced up at the stewardess as he became aware of her voice.  "Excuse me, what did you say?"
"Your crutches," said the stewardess whose name tag read Wendy, " do you need assistance in getting to the baggage claim?  Your ticket isn't flagged for needing help but I saw the crutches and wondered if there had been an oversight."
"Oh, no, I'll be fine, I have people waiting for me, but thanks."  Ethan smiled at her as she turned to help another passenger retrieve her carry-on bag from under the seat across the aisle.  He gazed appreciatively at Wendy's slender but curvy backside as she coaxed the small suitcase out of the space it was wedged into.  He waited for the rest of the passengers to clear out before he made the attempt to get out of his seat.  He was the last one off the plane and as stewardess Wendy bid him good-bye he felt just the slightest sweat break on his forehead.  He hoped the wait for his suitcase would be short and the drive home swift, he needed his suitcase and just two minutes of privacy to make that sweat subside.
Josie and her best friend Wyn were waiting at Gate 4.  Josie was giddy and bouncing back and forth between the seat next to Wyn and the deep marble windowsill six feet away. "Cool your jets, Jose.  You can't see anything out the window because it's dark outside.  Could you please stop bouncing around like a five-year-old."  Wyn sat still in her usual quiet reposed fashion.  Nothing rattled her.  Or seemed to excite her particularly.  Her Mona Lisa smile rarely cracked into a full-fledged grin but under that quiet facade lay the ability to shreik with delight or be consumed by a fit of the giggles.  Wyn was a normal fifteen year old girl, she just didn't look like one.
"I can't help it.  It's taking him way too long to get off the plane.  Maybe he missed his flight, you know that's a possibility with him on crutches and all.  I haven't seen my brother for over a year and I'm excited, okay?  Maybe it would do you some good to get excited once in a while."  Josie 
strained to look over the heads of the deplaned passengers and the loved ones they were embracing.  "You're tall," she said to Wyn, "why don't you put it to some good use and stand up and look for him, I can't see over the crowd."
Wyn closed her dog-eared copy of  The Fountainhead and stood up to her full height of five feet, eleven inches.  "There he is, Jose, it must be Ethan, he's cute and he's on crutches."                              
Josie made tracks for her beloved brother and nearly knocked heads with a man bent over to tie his shoe in her mad dash toward the railing.  "Ethan!  Here! Ethan!  In her enthusiasm she almost knocked him over.
"Take it easy, Josie-Posie!  I'm already on the injured list!  Ethan warmly gathered his baby sister who was no longer a baby into his arms.  The crutches clattered to the tile floor and Wyn arrived just in time to pick them up. 
"Hello, Ethan." Said Wyn as she extended her long arm to hand him his crutches.  "How have you been?"
"You're, it can't be,"  Ethan took a long, puzzled look at Wyn as she broke into one of those rare grins. "Wynnie-the-poop, you're as tall as me!  When did this happen!"
"Gradually," answered Wyn, "You've been gone a long time.  And I don't go by that name anymore, not that I ever did, but generally everyone calls me Wyn.  Or Ms. Paxton."
"Except for your grandma,"  squealed Josie.  Then with mock sophistication, "she always calls you Wynifred.  Or maybe Ms.Paxton."
"Thank you, Josie.  Now, if you'll help the gimp get his bags, I'll go get the car."  Wyn strode off down the concourse as Josie and Ethan headed for the baggage carousel.  The wait was mercifully short and soon they were out the door and on their way home.
Wyn eased her mother's station wagon to a stop in front of the Parker residence.  Josie helped Ethan  out of the car and Wyn grabbed his suitcase out of the back.
"Careful with that, my life is in there," Ethan called out over his shoulder.
"More like a dead body."Wyn set the suitcase on the front steps.  "Remember, my skating party is on Saturday.  I'll call you tomorrow.  Bye, Jose.  Good-bye Ethan.  Watch your step."
"Bye, Wyn.  See you soon."  Said Josie.
"Bye, Wynnie the poop, I mean Ms. Paxton.  Thanks for the ride and for the kind invitation to your party although I'm not really in any shape to skate."
"I didn't invite you, I think you're kinda old and crippled for this crowd." 
Josie giggled as she unlocked and opened the front door and held it open for Ethan.  "I'd take you to Wyn's party, but I already have a date.  Sorry."
"I'm crushed and my life is over."  Ethan sighed deeply and looked at the long flight of stairs that led up to his old room.
"Mom fixed up the fold-out in the den so you wouldn't have to mess with the stairs," said Josie as she dragged his suitcase toward the den.  "What have you got in here, your rock collection?"
"I swear, you and Wyn must be the puniest midwestern girls I've ever seen, you're supposed to have spunk and muscles. Where are the parental units, anyway?"
"The Glades."  Said Josie, referring to the Pine Glades Country Club where their parents were charter members.  "You know, the Thanksgiving ball or dance or whatever they call it.  I guess you'll see them in the morning.  Are you hungry, want some popcorn?  We could watch TV if you're not too tired.  The new TV is so cool, it has a remote control!"
"Sure.  You make the popcorn and I'll meet you in the living room in a few minutes."
Josie stepped closer to give Ethan another hug.  "I'm so glad you're home. I've missed you so much.  It's good to have you here."
"Thanks, Jose, it's good to be here.  Now go make that popcorn!" 
Ethan woke to the succulent aromas of roasting turkey and rising bread dough.  He rummaged under the hide-a-bed and located his bathroom kit.  Reaching up to turn on the light he swung his legs over the edge of the thin mattress.  Why, he wondered, did anyone think that a fold out couch was an acceptable thing to sleep on.  What sort of cruel, inhospitable, angry person had invented this instrument of torture.  Possibly a disgruntled hostess who was interested in limiting the length of  a houseguest's stay.  Or a chiropractor who was looking to lengthen his patient list.  
His knee wasn't bad today, maybe he would brave the basement stairs and look for those ankle weights and do some conditioning work with them.  As he slid the needle into his forearm he realized he was only putting off the inevitable and weighed several options in his mind.  Check into the hospital here or back at school after finals in December?  Ethan feared kicking the morphine on his own, he had no idea what to expect.  But his knee was past the point of need, it was other parts of his body that now craved the drug and objected to being deprived of it.  It irritated him to have to jump through the hoops of aquiring it and offended him that he had taken on a courier position to finance its acquisition.  Although he had slept well he felt weary and put off the decision for one more day.  He now detected the smell of coffee and possibly his mother's fresh baked cinnamon rolls emanating from the kitchen.  Time to face them, August and DeeDee.  The man and woman responsible for his existance, mom and dad.  Take a deep breath.  Suddenly the idea of spending this many days in the company of his parents gave him a shudder.  Maybe if he was really  good they'd let him borrow a car.
The American tradition of Thanksgiving dinner had been seriously altered.  Not just from the original harvest celebration involving Native Americans and Pilgrims and the foods of the new world but from the Thanksgiving of  DeeDee Parker's childhood.  
She checked the place cards and counted the the various plates and wine glasses and made sure the proper serving pieces were ready to receive their delectable contents.  She remembered as a girl the simple yet sumptuous feast at her grandmother's house.  Of course there had been turkey and stuffing and pies of all kinds and those wonderful dinner buns that only Grandma Amundson could produce that were consumed topheavy with butter.  DeeDee had learned to cook in her grandmother's kitchen of enticing smells and mysterious ingredients.  She missed the quiet dignity of the Thanksgiving prayer her grandfather would offer when everyone was finally seated around the fully extended dining room table.  The impossibly long cream-colored linen tablecloth had been ironed to a flawless smoothness of a background for the beautiful floral china that was only brought out a half dozen times a year.  She remembered turning thirteen and graduating to that impeccably set table. It wasn't nearly as much fun as the kid's table that was set up in the kitchen where they ate from melamine dishes with the everyday stainless flatware and tucked paper napkins into the necklines of their Sunday best clothes.  
With some sadness DeeDee accepted what the holiday had evolved into now that it was her turn to choose the menu and direct the culinary operations in the kitchen.  The meal was now more for show than heart thanks to August's particular demands over how the food should taste as well as how it should be properly presented.  She wanted to go back to the kid's table in the kitchen where it was still okay to stir your mashed potatoes and gravy with your peas and shovel it into your mouth in great spoonfuls and then display with great glee the half chewed contents to your cousins across the table.  To still feel free enough to mop up the gravy on your plate with a remnant of bun.  DeeDee lovingly baked those same dinner buns from the recipe handed down from her grandmother but the ambiance that bread was now broken in was so very different.  
Fortunately she still enjoyed the mechanics of working in the kitchen.  What little joy she experienced anymore was found in that room.  Coaxing a glob of flour and shortening into a work of art piecrust.  Kneading the bread dough into just the right consistency, seasoning the stuffing for the turkey with aromatic sage and carmelized onion.  Whisking a browned flour thickening into the hot drippings to produce a gravy of lumpless perfection.  Her daughters had shown little interest in learning to cook though she had tried to entice them into its many gratifying aspects.  Ethan had enjoyed sharing the kitchen with her but August had discouraged this activity thinking it was inappropriate for a boy to take interest in such a thing.  As far as he was concerned sports and cooking were mutually exclusive.  DeeDee held out hope that perhaps a granddaughter would learn to cook at her knee just as she had with her own grandmother.  
Then it shot through her as unexpectedly as lightning out of a clear blue sky.  Annie.  Maybe she did have a granddaughter, the child would be nearly four years old now, big enough to be helping to stir up cookie dough or just watching dinner preparations from a chair pulled up to the counter.  If there was a child and if by chance it was a girl...Stop, stop, make it stop.  DeeDee fought back a tear as she looked at her watch.  Almost ten o'clock.  She really should toss Ethan 
and Josie out of their respective beds.  There was still time for them to have a modest breakfast and not spoil their appetites for dinner at two-thirty.
"Hi, Mom.  Got a hug for your favorite son?"  Ethan took carefully measured steps with his almost-healed knee into the kitchen.
"Not my favorite, my only.  When are you going to get that right?"  DeeDee pulled her son close and squeezed him like a straight-jacket.  "It's so good to have you home.  Now sit down and tell me everything."  She fetched coffee and orange juice and selected the largest corner cinammon roll for him from the tray on the counter.  Ethan liked the corner pieces from everything, brownies to lasagne.  As a child he had requested that she bake pies in a square pan so there would be corner pieces of pie, too.  "Just give me a minute to go check on your sister, if it were up to her she'd spend the whole day in bed."
"Be kind, mom, we were up pretty late last night.  But not as late as our wild parents, when did you get in, I didn't hear a thing."
"That's a new twist, you two waiting up for us old folks to get home.  About one-thirty, I guess.  I should have ridden home with the Beihns when your father got invloved in that poker game but I was having a pretty good time myself.  You know that your mother is going to chair the Thanksgiving Eve Ball for next year.  It's a pain in the ass disguised as an honor.  Oh, well, it will make your father happy if I can pull it off."
Ethan bit into the flaky corner of the cinnamon roll.  He wondered if his mother ever did anything to make her happy instead of others.  Especially his father.  Thankless tyrant that he was.  He never asked for anything, he either decreed it or just expected it.  Ethan wondered where his father was at the moment and realized he was dreading seeing him face to face.  Screwing up his knee and his prospects for playing hockey professionally was likely not going to please old dad.  Sorry for failing you being your only son and all, I know you don't think coaching is an acceptable fall-back for me, but gee, dad, I like coaching and I'm not in the business of pleasing you anymore.  Fat chance that he could ever say the words but thinking them held some minor satisfaction.  The best he could do was get through the week-end and get back to school without anyone discovering the less savory aspects of his current life.  Nobody needed to know, he could handle it, he would deliver the package of stuff in his suitcase tomorrow to get off the hook with his supplier.  Then he'd go back to school, arrange to take early finals, and check into a hospital to detox.  Going over the plan in his mind helped to reassure him.  He'd get his life back in order and noone would be the wiser.  He leaned back in the chair and sipped his coffee.  He did some tentative stretching of his left leg and discovered it to be more limber than he had expected.  He should get by around the house without the crutches just fine, it was time to start putting some weight on that knee and getting some strength back in those muscles.  Everything was going to be fine.
"Hey, bro."  Josie shuffled toward the fridge clad in pink flannel jammies and tousled hair.  She didn't look very far removed from sleep.  For that matter she didn't look very far removed in appearance from the five-year-old Josie who would shuffle into the kitchen in similar 
somnambulistic fashion.
"Josie, the orange juice is already on the table," said DeeDee.
"What? Oh.  Okay, guess I'm not awake yet."  Josie mumbled absently.
"What you need is a healthy shot of this stuff," said Ethan, indicating his now refilled coffee cup.  "When I was your age I couldn't move in the morning without it."
"Uggh, I don't know how anyone can stomach that stuff!  It's vile and repulsive."  Josie held up her golden glass of orange juice.  "This," she said, "is all that I need."
"Yeah, that and Mom's Dayton's credit card." Joked Ethan.
"For your information I have my own Dayton's card now.  And my driver's license, too.  You need to catch up on a few things around here.  I'm on my way to independent womanhood, big brother.  It makes mom and dad really nervous."  Josie grinned a wide, conspiratorial grin and stuck her tongue out at Ethan.
"Aren't you a little young to be a licensed driver?" he asked.
"I'm fourteen and a half, the same age as you were when you got yours.  You know, the farm kid thing?  Daddy signed and I took the test.  He taught me, too.  Last summer we went out and practiced after I got my permit.  All legal and proper, that's how we do things around here, you big ignoramus!" "That's an awful big word for such a little girl.  It's so pleasant how we can revert to our childish behaviour, regress right into our old crap in less than twelve hours.  It's comfortable old crap.  I like it."  Ethan scooped a fingerfull of frosting from his plate and flung it playfully at Josie.  Not to disappoint him she squealed loudly and promised to get even.
"Alright, you two, that's enough.  Now does either of you want eggs or some bacon?  This is your last chance to be fed until the turkey comes out of the oven."  DeeDee stood expecting an answer with her hands on her hips.
"No, thanks, Mom." Ethan and Josie echoed.
"Then out of my kitchen or I'll put the both of you to work,"  DeeDee threatened.  "Listen, I want both of you dressed nicely for dinner and in the living room by one.  And I want you on your best behaviour."
"Yes, Mom," they echoed together dutifully before bursting into laughter and leaving the kitchen arm in arm.                         
Jeddy Winters let herself in through the back door.  She half expected the door to be locked and was ready with her key in hand.  The knob turned in her hand and she stepped into the breezeway 
that led to the kitchen.  Jeddy was a widow of fifty-five years of age who didn't really need the hassle or the money of working in a domestic capacity for others.  But she had come to enjoy the families she had worked for over the years and was having a hard time letting go of the Parkers, especially Josie, and it would be so nice to see Ethan again, he was the same age as her own son, Eddie.  She would surely have a tale or two to tell at bridge next week after catching up on the gossip that this family could generate.  Brushing the snow from her coat and hat she hung them on the coat tree and saw to pulling off her snow boots and replacing them with the well-worn, comfortable loafers that she produced from her tote bag.  Mr. Parker would let her get by with the loafers as long as she stayed in the kitchen with them.  When the time came for her to serve at dinner she would change into the the pretty, shiny black dress shoes and crisp uniform hanging in the breezeway closet.  Proceeding into the kitchen she greeted Mrs. Parker and consulted the lists hanging from magnets on the refrigerator door.  One list contained the menu for the day and the longer list a schedule of the order and times at which particular foods should be popped into or removed from the oven and consequently served.
"I see you have all the serving dishes out, you want me to do the relish trays or start the crab puffs?"     Jeddy asked.
"The crab puffs, I think. You can assemble the relish trays while they're baking and then they can go out to the living room together with the white wine.  I'll finish up with the sweet potatoes and then the rest is up to you, I need to go dress before the guests arrive."  DeeDee depended heavily on Jeddy during the holiday season.  She was an excellent cook and didn't mind doing the serving or even the clean-up afterwards.  They worked well together in the kitchen and after eleven years hardly needed to speak to one another to produce beautiful as well as delicious meals.  Other than methods of food preparation and casual inquiries about one another's families they didn't have much to talk about.  DeeDee knew she was lucky to have Jeddy around and was aware that the Parkers were now the only family she worked for, one by one she had resigned cooking and cleaning and babysitting responsibilities with other families.  And she had heard that Jeddy's oldest son, Clifford, had asked her to move down to Texas to live with him and his family.  DeeDee didn't bring up the subject of Jeddy's possible departure, she just waited for Jeddy to take it up with her and hoped that her inaction would keep Jeddy around through one more dinner.  Replacing her would be difficult if not impossible.
Ethan loitered over dressing for dinner, hoping to put off encountering his father until the guests arrived.  As soon as he heard the doorbell, he told himself, he would put down the magazine he was leafing through and get up and tie his tie.  Then he would casually make his entrance into the living room and there would be the comfortable distraction of company.  That would make it less likely that his father would kill him, with witnesses there and all.  Ethan chuckled to himself over that thought and broke out in a sweat at the same time.  Maybe it wasn't so funny after all.  Ethan's thoughts wandered to Josie's best friend Wyn.  She had certainly changed for the better in the last couple of years.  She had always been taller than others her age, even the boys, but Ethan had expected that she would stop at some point before equaling his own height.  He was unaccustomed to meeting the gaze of a woman without looking down.  Wyn's unblinking gray- blue eyes had startled him at such short range.  And much prettier than he had remembered, beautiful really, she could be a model.  And Josie, too, she had transformed into a very different 
girl while he had been gone.  He hadn't realized before how much she resembled Annie.  They almost could have been twins.  He wished he could see them side by side to see if his perception was accurate, Josie was nearly the same age as Annie had been when she left home, Ethan had never gotten all the details of why she had left.  Except of course that she had been pregnant and their father had been furious.  He had left for college soon after and hadn't given it much thought, but now it was clear to him how fragmented his memory of Annie had become.  
Josie was the only one of the Parker children who didn't alter her behavior to suit anyone, she was just Josie all of the time.  Ethan admired that about his youngest sister, how she just blurted out what was on her mind without thinking of the possible consequences.  She just wasn't calculating enough to plan things that way.  At least that was how it appeared.  It was shocking to hear a four letter word issuing from her mouth so it always got your attention. He himself suffered from eldest child disease.  A leader, a parent pleaser, a finishing everything you start sort of kid who could do no wrong, always winning, always polite.  Annie had been the peacemaker, the one who made you laugh when you were down, steely and cold on the outside but ever the nurturer inside.  It seemed to him that Annie's leaving had created a deep chasm in their family that could not be bridged.  We could sure use you here today to smooth things over, he thought.
"Josie Parker, put your shoes on," said Jeddy.  "Don't you try sneaking up on me in your stocking feet to snitch off of that appetizer tray!  I counted those black olives so I'll know if any are missing."
Josie plopped down on the window seat in the breakfast nook and slipped on her shoes.  "What do you think, Jeddy, like my new shoes?" asked Josie, indicating the black platform strappy shoes that now graced her size 5 1/2 feet.
"Well, they definitely make you taller, just make sure you don't fall off them and hurt yourself."  Jeddy raised her eyebrows as she studied Josie's shoes.  "Can you walk in those things?"
"Oh, sure, no problem.  See?"  Josie pranced across the kitchen floor with an invisible waltz partner.  She was wearing the tiniest of black skirts with  a black and beige striped clingy sweater.  "Guess I'd better get out to the living room so Daddy can disapprove of what I'm wearing.  Anybody here yet?"
"Mr.and Mrs. Beihn and their two kids and one set of grandparents, just waiting on your mother's folks to arrrive.  I better get these crab puffs out there before they get cold."
"I'll take them, Jeddy, you'd better change before daddy sees you."  Josie giggled as she picked up the tray and left through the door to the dining room.  Jeddy looked down at her scruffy loafers.  She didn't know what would get the greater reaction from August Parker, her entering the living room in her sloppy kitchen attire or the sight of his precious daughter toting a serving tray.  Jeddy smiled as she fetched her uniform so she could change.  Josie could be relied upon to share the information with her later, they had been great friends since they first laid eyes on each other.  Many was the time that Jeddy had supplied Josie with cookies or other treats behind Mrs. 
Parker's back. In exchange for goodies and Jeddy's open heart Josie had often shared her secrets and fears.  Particularly since Annie had run off and DeeDee Parker's drinking and dependence on pills had distanced her from nearly everyone.  Jeddy had filled that void for Josie and had become a surrogate mother of sorts.  There was just no way she could leave for warmer climes and grandchildren until this last one was out of the house.  But she cagily decided not to tell Mrs. Parker until after Christmas, this would assure her a larger Christmas bonus as well as letting her think she had cajoled her into staying a couple more years.  Sometimes, she thought as she smoothed a few stray hairs back that had escaped from her bun, it's so easy to make everyone happy.
August Parker sat at the head of the dining room table and surveyed the bounty set upon it and those seated around the table.  To his left sat his mother and next to her his father.  Then Galen Beihn his business partner and his sixteen year old daughter Kelsey.  Next to Kelsey sat Ethan and then at the opposite end of the table his wife was seated.  She was engaged in a quiet toned conversation with her mother, Dorothy Amundson, who was seated just around the corner from her.  Ted Amundson, his father-in-law was seated to Dorothy's left.  Maida Beihn sat quietly tucking away stuffing and cranberry-orange relish that she washed down with dainty sips of California chablis.  Next to her was her and Galen's seventeen year old son Kirby who was conveniently and with August's approval dating his daughter.  Josie was seated next to Kirby and just to August's right.  Josie was smiling broadly as she recounted some tale from school last week and Kirby gazed at her a little too adoringly considering the company.  That's just fine, August thought to himself, you gaze at my daughter all you want but that better be all that's going on.  
The thing that August liked about Kirby was that he had a certain influence on him given that he and Kirby's father had worked together for nearly twenty-five years.  He was a good looking young man and smart, too, not like some of the others that had come sniffing around after his Josie.  August had been pleased that Kirby had come to him first about dating Josie, saying that he was interested in seeing her but that he would do so only with her parents' approval.  
Josie had thought it romantic and cute that Kirby had asked for her father's permission before he asked her out, she had admired him from a distance for as long as she could remember.  In a way they were like brother and sister because they had grown up in such close quarters and were so comfortable around each other. Josie was flattered that he paid attention to her, she had always been in awe of his good looks and had gone through a period of avoiding him at school because it made her sad to see him talking to other girls.  She considered that she may even marry him someday, it would make her father happy and would probably make her happy, too.  In the meantime it was just nice to feel safe and adored with him.  It was convenient to have an automatic date to take her to parties and movies but she was flexible about what the outcome would be, they had lots of time before they had to worry about getting serious.  For now, it was enough that he was cute and they had fun together.
And so the long weekend wore on.  Friday afternoon DeeDee had taken Josie out to the mall for the bargains to be had on the official first day of Christmas shopping.  August had gone into the office to catch up on some paper work, at least that was what he said.  Ethan wondered who she 
was this time and how many would it take to so completely humiliate his mother that she would leave him or maybe just have a reaction.  She was so numbed with pills and booze most of the time that either she didn't notice or just didn't care anymore.  She was so good at covering, Ethan had noticed that she had had only one glass of wine through the entire dinner on Thursday.  Her speech didn't slurr and her movements never faltered.  She just moved about in a graceful, premeditated slow motion that passed for having a life. What kept her hanging on he wondered.  Money?  Fear?  Maybe just the memory of whatever had brought them together to begin with.  Or maybe things didn't look so bad from her Valium-altered point of view. 
For Ethan, Friday consisted of turkey sandwiches and leftover pie and the vast wasteland of daytime television.  August's latest technological pride and joy was a remote control television consisting of a nineteen inch color screen, thirteen channels, and a twenty foot cord that snaked across the living room floor to the remote unit on the coffee table.  With the remote you could change channels, raise or lower the volume, and turn the set on or off.  Ethan sat on the couch for hours playing with the thing only taking breaks to rummage in the refrigerator for more food.  He had put on a few pounds since the accident that had ravaged his knee, his physical activities had been curtailed but he was still eating as if he was skating two hours a day and running ten miles a week.  It was only temporary.  Things would be back to normal soon, he'd get back on a workout routine and his jeans would be comfortable again.  Once he was clean he could be comfortable inside his own skin again, too.  It never occurred to Ethan that there was even the slightest similarity between his mother's substance dependence and his own.  He still had hope of getting back to some semblance of a life he had carefully mapped out and come so close to losing.  His mother, he thought, had little to get back to and that rationalized her deadening her senses.  
Ethan preferred driving his father's Jeep but in his current condition had to settle for his mother's car.  Not that there was anything wrong with the Lincoln Mark IV, it was just a little too country- club- wife-let's-have-lunch for his taste.  He enjoyed the hands-on driving experience the Jeep offered, synchronizing the clutch with the gas and the feeling of taking a corner a little too quickly appealed to him and delivered a similar dangerous sensation to flying low and fast across the ice in the heat of a close game.  But his left knee was not yet strong enough to handle the clutch so the automatic transmission and the understated luxury of the Lincoln would have to do.  A light snow was falling, the large, fluffy flakes wouldn't amount to much accumulation so he wasn't concerned about the weather delaying his flight the next day.  
In the fading Saturday afternoon light Ethan looked down at the brown paper package in the seat beside him while he waited for the traffic light to change.  The instructions were pretty simple.  All he had to do was pull up in the Super Value parking lot at precisely five o'clock and wait.  Wait for some guy who would identify himself as D.B Cooper and comment on how early it was getting dark these days. Ethan would then invite him into the passenger side of the car and pull out a road atlas to purportedly provide D.B. with some directions while at the same time passing him the brown paper package the size of a small shoebox.  D.B. would then thank him for the directions and leave the car with the package.  Simple.  Clean and neat.  Ethan's tie to his dealer would be over with and the storm cloud that had hovered over him would blow away.  He felt a sense of anticipation, almost elation at the thought that his life would once more be his own.  The light turned to green and he hit the gas with gusto as he approached the bridge that spanned the 
river.  The sign was so familiar that it barely registered in his thoughts. Then in that moment, that split second when your life hangs waiting in the balance, things changed.  The sign had read Watch for ice on Bridges.  Ethan's fate veered along with the car as the rear wheels spun in a vain effort to gain purchase on the ice.  The orderly lines and spacial aspect of the bridge careened out of view and a concrete-rooted steel bridge abutment now lay in his path.  Everything was happening too fast and Ethan froze behind the wheel of the out of control car.  I'm so sorry, mom, so sorry about everything, he thought as the Lincoln's front end made contact with the unmoving concrete and steel.     The car came to a screeching halt as the driver's side front tire hooked over the edge of the pavement and swung the rear end around leaving it oriented in the opposite direction it had been treaveling in.  Ethan lost consciousness as his unrestrained body mass was thrown forward and his head made contact with the steering wheel.  The brown paper wrapped package tumbled elegantly off of the seat and split open upon impact with the floor, spilling its innards of white powder filled plastic sandwich bags.  Some of the plastic bags burst open as well and the fine, white powder dusted over the crimson carpeting and came to rest looking like new fallen snow.  The horn was stuck on and its blaring carried crisply through the cold darkness.  The driver of the pick-up that had been following at several car lengths pulled over to the side of the road and called the police and requested an ambulance on his C.B. radio.
Josie lounged back on the couch and slurped her hot chocolate.  She could have done without the marshmallows but they were the little miniature ones so they didn't interfere too much as she brought the oversize mug to her lips and took in the warm melty sweetness.  Kirby sat at the other end of the couch massaging her now-warm feet.  When they had come in from skating on the river her feet had been cold and cramped, her skates were a little tight, perhaps a halfsize too small, but a little discomfort was tolerable especially given how cute and tiny her skates looked as they glided across the glassy ice.  It didn't hurt that they added nearly two inches to her height making her legs appear ridiculously long.  Josie derived great amusement from the fact that Wyn required a size ten shoe to accomodate her feet while Josie needed a five, well actually a five and a half now, her skates must be a five and that's why they were a little uncomfortable.  
Josie enjoyed the solicitous way Kirby paid attention to her.  She was considering how far she would let him go with her when he drove her home in a couple of hours.  They had kissed on numerous occasions and he had so far not attempted to venture any further, he seemed almost shy with her and Josie had been a little surprised because he was older and she automatically assumed that because he was a boy he would be more experienced.  Most boys just looked at her chest when they spoke to her but Kirby looked into her eyes and talked to her as if she had a brain.  He had this soft-spoken, intelligent quality that was lacking in the other boys she knew.  When they first started dating she had been a little suspicious that it was something their parents had cooked up but it didn't take very long for her to realize that he really felt something for her.  Tonight, she decided, she would let him touch her breasts.  It was the part of her anatomy that received the most notice so she thought that it would be a nice place to begin to show Kirby that she really liked and trusted him.  She was curious over whether it would feel much different when he touched them compared to when she touched them herself when she bathed.  Or when she experimentally ran her hands over them under her nightgown  when she was in bed.  She felt a lttle tingly between her legs sometimes when she teased her nipples into erection but it didn't exactly send her into a frenzy or make her want to explore her private parts any further.  Yes. 
She would definitely let him touch her breasts, she might even undo the convenient front closure on her new satiny bra if she liked it.  But that was all she would do, she wouldn't let him go any further because she was aware of what could happen and she wasn't going to end up like Annie.  Just that morning she had placed the fourth birthday candle in the box in the back of her closet.  Her niece or nephew was four now.  She looked up at Kirby and smiled her warmest smile.  "Let's go to the game room, it sounds like they're playing pool in there."  She said.  Josie loved parties at Winbrook.  There seemed to be a room for every possible activity.  And she loved her best friend Wyn.  They had seen each other through every epiphanal episode in their young lives from kindergarden graduation to menarche, from questioning whether God exists to questioning whether your parents actually have sex.  Wyn understood and accepted her without her having to explain a thing and vice versa.  If Wyn had had a brother Josie knew she would have fallen in love with him but since she didn't Kirby would do quite nicely.
My head hurts.  I can't breathe through my nose! And could somebody dim those damn lights!  Ethan was surprised to find that he was speaking out loud.  And equally surprised to find his hands restrained when he attempted to protect his eyes from the glare of the examination lights.
"Do you know your name, sir? Do you know where you are?"  The white-coated man who asked these questions wore a name tag reading Dr. Lentz.
"Why am I tied down, what happened to me?"  Ethan squinted in the bright light as he struggled to read the name tag.
"You were involved in an automobile accident, answering my questions will help in determining if you have any neurological damage.  What is your name, sir, and do you know where you are?" asked Dr. Lentz.
"My name is Ethan Parker and I assume that I'm in the emergency room of the Walsh River Community Hospital.  My dad's a board member and I'm sure he'll be pleased to know I'm here.  I'm also sure that my mother will be delighted to see what's happened to her car. Anything else you want to know?"
"Well, Mr. Parker, the good news is that you have minor injuries and your parents have been notified that you are here, in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they are here already.  The bad news is that there is a police detective in the hallway waiting to see you as soon as I give him the go- ahead and there are two rather grim-looking uniformed cops guarding the door to this room.  I don't know what you've been up to, son, but it doesn't look good to me."
"Don't I get to make a phone call or something?"
"I believe that question is for the detective, Mr. Parker, but I have one more question for you.  When they brought you in here unconscious we took the liberty of running a few lab tests and you have come back positive for narcotics.  Are you currently taking any prescription medication?"
"I've been taking Demerol, I had knee surgery about eight weeks ago and it's been pretty painful," answered Ethan.  "Think you could give something now?  My head doesn't feel so good."
"I'm going to need to see your prescription and I also need the name of the doctor who has been treating you.  We can get you something for the pain when the rest of your lab tests are complete.  I'm going to order some x-rays and a CT scan to rule out any closed head injuries.  You're going to be in here a couple of days so relax.  We're going to take good care of you.  You sure it's just the Demerol you've been taking?  How about street drugs or over-the-counter?  Anything else?"  Ethan shook his head.  "Well, I need to let the detective in to speak with you, I'll see to it that he keeps it short, and then any visitors you have will have to be cleared through me.  Good luck."
Two kilos of cocaine.  Possession with intent to distribute.  Possession of stolen prescription medication.  Five to seven years to be served in the state correctional facility.  Possibility of parole will be considered at eighteen months.  Despite his father's considerable local influence and Ethan's considerable local popularity he was going to jail.  Further considering the fact that August had been sensible in hiring a staid and upstanding local lawyer rather than a flashy out- of-town sort, Ethan was going to jail. Well, maybe he'll learn his lesson in there.  August had always felt that he'd been too soft on his son, that he didn't appreiate all of the advantages that he'd had handed to him.  DeeDee had influenced his feminine side a little too much and now two of their three children were lost causes.  DeeDee went home and didn't come out of her darkened bedroom for five weeks.  All she could think of were the horror stories of inside a prison's gray, cold walls.  Rape and bad food and dank, cramped close quarters with society's cast-off evil elements.  Her son amidst theives and murderers.  All she could do was cry and pray fervently for Josie, that her youngest would find a way through life that would make her proud and give her a reason to go on herself.  Josie was the only bright thing left in her life.
If he had talked, if he had given them some names of the bigger fish to catch he might be looking at a more lenient sentence.  Plea-bargaining his way out of this mess was an alternative he considered at length. Ethan was uncomfortable enough dealing honestly with the criminal element he had become involved with.  The idea of facing those cold-eyed malefactors later on wasn't pleasant, he didn't know what they were capable of and wasn't interested in finding out firsthand.  His odds of survival seemed more likely if he just kept his mouth shut and did his time.  He could learn to be a model prisoner and get out as soon as possible.  "Then what" wasn't something he felt the energy or the privilege to explore.
Ethan found that keeping to himself was the easiest path.  He was incarcerated with other minimum security felons in the new wing of the generally decrepit State Pen.  He had a tiny cell all to himself and had access to the prison library and gym.  He completed his college degree through correspondence.  The deliberate study time helped to ward off the claustrophobic phantom that lingered just over his shoulder, as did the workout he took three days a week with the weight machines in the gym.  Ethan had thought that his college experience was the rite of passage that would turn him into a mature and thoughtful adult.  He expected to graduate from college and move on to life in the real world with a new perspective provided by the education he had acquired within the ivy covered brick walls his parents and sports ability had afforded 

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