Molly lagged behind as Ginny and Brian mounted the porch steps to the Northrop home. Unlike Ginny’s previous visit, Grace wore a welcoming smile when she opened the door. “Welcome back, Ginny. I see that you’ve brought guests.”
“Grace, meet my son, Brian. And the adorable little girl standing beside Brian is Molly Davidson.”
“It will be lovely to have some young people here. Mrs. Northrop is looking forward to your visit.”
A distinguished man in his mid to late sixties rose form his chair when Ginny, Brian and Molly entered the living room. He crossed the room, held out his hand and smiled. “Ginny Roark, I presume. I’m Charles Cantrell, Ruth’s lawyer.”
She tried not to let her surprise show, but she wasn’t sure she succeeded. “Delighted to meet you, Mr. Cantrell.” She put her arm around Brian’s shoulder. “My son Brian.” Then she reached for Molly’s hand and guided her closer to Ruth’s chair. “Ruth, Julie’s daughter Molly.”
“Hello Molly. Did Ginny explain who I am?”
She nodded. “She and Mr. Nick did.”
“You remind me of your mommy when she was your age?”
Molly’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Her grandpa and I used to call her Pixie because she was small for her age. There’s a photo album in her bedroom if you’d like to see photographs of her.”
“She still has a bedroom here?”
“She does. I always hoped she would return, so I kept her room just as it was the day she left home. Grace will be happy to take you to her room.”
Molly looked at Ginny for confirmation that it was okay to go with Grace.
“I think that’s a lovely idea. Brian why don’t you go with her. Since she’s in a strange house she might be more comfortable if you’re with her.”
“Sure.” He took Molly’s hand.
Ruth watched them leave the room. “How old is Brian?”
“Seventeen. He’s a senior in high school this year.”
“Hm-m. Did you have to offer a bribe to get him to spend an evening with strangers? Old strangers, at that."
“Surprisingly, no. He has taken on the role of man of the house. I’ve been trying to convince him that I don’t need a protector, but I haven’t made much progress. Being a teen is a full-time job. They are still developing physically, mentally and emotionally."
“I agree. Too many of us didn’t handle our children’s anxieties effectively, but that’s another story. You must be wondering why Christine and Roger aren’t here. I asked them to arrive at six-forty-five. There are a few things we should discuss before they arrive.”
“Are Christine and Roger invited because they are potential guardians, or because Christine is Julie’s mother?”
“The latter. Christine isn’t interested in Molly unless it’s as a bargaining chip. I deeply regret having to admit that about my daughter, but truth is truth.” She paused, took a deep breath and continued. “I consider family matters private, so forgive me if I edit or gloss over some of my family's history. You probably aren't any more eager to hear what I have to say than I am to share it. But, there are things you need to know. How much do you know about my daughter?”
“That she was very young when Julie was born and that she was in and out of trouble during her teen years. I don’t know the details.”
“Christine was raped by a serial rapist when she was sixteen. She hasn’t recovered from the trauma of the experience. True or not, she was diagnosed as having PTSD. At the time the rape happened, Christine knew very little about the ugliness in the world. George and I had sheltered her.”
“What happened to the man who raped her?”
“He went to prison. Was released. Less than six months later, he was convicted and sentenced on an assault and battery charge.”
“Was Christine called to testify against him?”
“No. She refused to answer any and all questions. She was like a zombie for months. We took her to a therapist, but Dr. Rosenthal wasn’t any more successful in getting her to talk than the police had been. If there hadn’t been other girls who were willing to testify, the rapist would have walked free.
“Christine changed from a sweet naïve young girl into a rebellious hellion. Since then, our relationship runs from cool to non-existent. She comes when the mood strikes, usually when she needs money or a favor.
“Even so, Julie was her child. It would have been wrong of me not to invite her this evening. If she chooses, she can be a delightful guest. On the other hand, she can be sarcastic and rude.”
“This isn’t about Christine. I can deal with her either way. How do you and her husband get along?”
“Roger is a dear man, who has put up with a lot. Their daughter Gwen is in college. When Gwen was a toddler, Christine adored her. That changed when Gwen developed a mind of her own. Now, they are usually at odds. Gwen hasn’t been as affected as she might have been because Roger has been there for her. She’s always been a daddy’s girl.”
Molly reentered the room carrying a photo album. She crossed the room to stand in front of Ruth. “Mrs. Northrop, is it all right if I take this album to Ginny’s house? I promise to take care of it, and I’ll bring it back.”
Ruth’s smile was radiant. “Of course, you can, Molly. Keep it as long as you like.”
Ginny’s eyes moved from Ruth and Molly to the living room door. A woman, who she assumed was Christine, swept into the room with a distinguished looking man at her heels. Her resemblance to Ruth was minimal. She had the same flawless complexion, but the resemblance stopped there. Her hair was dark brown, her eyes almost black and she was at least two inches shorter than her mother. If she’d left the dark scowl at the door, she would have been attractive. Without looking left or right, she marched over to Charles Cantrell.
“This evening is about family, Charles. What the devil are doing here?”
Ruth snapped, “He’s here because I invited him, Christine. Save your rude behavior for another time.”
She turned, noticed Ginny, Brian and Molly, and her scowl turned into a smile, albeit a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Sorry. I’m Christine Snipes, Julie’s mom. I’m guessing that the young lady with you is Molly.”
Before Ginny could respond, Grace announced that dinner was served.
Ginny would look back at that evening at Ruth’s, visualize and analyze the people there and wonder if it was then that the dominoes began to topple.