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Chapter 19

Ginny watched as a slim woman dressed in gray slacks, gray wool Pea coat and red turtle-neck sweater spoke to the hostess, then glanced in her direction. Ginny waved to get her attention. The woman wended her way through the diners and took a seat across from Ginny. “Hi, I’m Teresa Kesler. Sorry to be late. Wouldn’t you know that I’d get an emergency phone call minutes before it was time for me to walk out of my office door.”

“Sounds like my life. I’m Ginny Roark, a friend of Christine’s daughter Julie. I appreciate your willingness to give up your lunch hour to talk to me about your friendship with Christine Snipes. Since you’ve distanced yourself from her, I suspect that the two of you have issues, but everyone who knows Christine is biased in one way or another.

“I’ve met her one time. The encounter didn't go well, so it is difficult to keep an open mind. It's possible I saw her at her worst. She was rude to her mom, ignored her granddaughter Molly and my son Brian. Her husband, Roger, was embarrassed by her behavior.”

“Was Gwen there?”

“No. We met later. Gwen is a sweetheart. She was kind to Molly, made her feel like a member of the family. When I questioned her about her mom, she suggested that I speak to you. You’ve known her since grade school.

"I'm hoping that she shared her hopes and dreams with you. Since you were her confidant during puberty and after the rape, you have a unique perspective about who she is and what she wants. I would like to know when her personality and her attitudes began to change. When she developed a victim mentality? Was if after or before the rape?

Teresa's frown wasn't encouraging.

“Since you only have an hour, I jotted down some questions, but if you would prefer to tell me about your friendship in your own words, I’m okay with that.” Ginny reached in her purse, took out a folded piece of paper and handed it to Teresa.

Teresa quickly scanned the questions. “What was Christine like as a child? Hm-m. That’s easy. Excuse the French, but she was a damn drama queen even as a first grader. That’s when we met. We were buddy-buddy up until she started sneaking around with boys, the kind I didn’t approve of and Ruth wouldn’t have either.

"We were on the outs when the rape incident occurred but I stuck up for her when others didn't. She wouldn’t answer my phone calls. She transferred to a different school so she wouldn’t have to deal with ‘the gossiping nobodies who attended our school.’ Those were her exact words.

“We didn’t reconnect until she married Roger. She had matured, or so I thought. For about three years, her behavior was exemplary, and our friendship was solid.”

“What was her temperament? Outgoing? Happy?”

“Bossy. Opinionated. Sweet as spun sugar when she was the center of attention.

“By the time she turned thirteen, she had the figure of an eighteen-year-old. She lied about her age when she could get by with it. She had the reputation for being fickle. If she liked you, she couldn’t do enough for you. If you crossed her, you were permanently on her blacklist. I remember one incident when one of our classmates made a comment about her being a spoiled brat. She took a pair of scissors and cut up the only copy of a ten-thousand-word essay he was writing for English class. She wouldn’t tell me what she did to appease him, but I can guess.

“The truth is, her mom and dad did pamper her, so she didn’t handle rejection, criticism or second-best well.”

Ginny wondered if Teresa was overstating her case against Christine because of the bad blood between them. “If what you say is true, then her basic nature hasn’t changed. I’m surprised. Charles and Nell Cantrell remember her as a sweet and dutiful child.”

“Christine is a born actress. She’s been calculating and duplicitous as long as I’ve known her. How did you say she treated Molly when they met?”

“She ignored her. Unfortunately, Molly isn’t impressed with the family. Julie didn’t discuss her mother and grandmother with her, so Molly is content to be a Davidson. Name recognition and money aren’t important to her.

“If Ruth’s unfortunate accident hadn’t occurred, Molly might have been able to forge a relationship with her. Christine is another matter.

“Have any decisions about Molly's future been made?”

“Her future is in limbo. I want to protect her from as much trauma as I can, but it’s not always possible.”

“Surely, Christine doesn’t want to raise Molly. She let Ruth raise Julie and Roger was Gwen’s primary parent. If Roger had not been around, who knows what would have happened to Gwen.”

“Christine insists that she’s not interested, but Gwen claims her mom isn’t above using Molly as a bargaining chip. I would consider adopting Molly, if I could be certain that my efforts would not be in vain. I don’t think that Sean, Molly’s biological dad, or his parents will stand in the way of an adoption. I don’t trust Christine.”

“Smart woman.” Teresa glanced at the list. “Will Christine interfere with an adoption on a whim? Yes.”

“She’s vindictive?”

“Very! One other thing you need to know, Ginny. Christine expected to inherit Ruth’s house. My guess is that she was furious that her mom left it to Gwen. You might suggest to the police that Christine had a motive to set the fire.”

“She couldn’t have started the fire. She had been released from the mental health unit at the hospital, but Roger wanted her watched. He hired a security guard to keep an eye on her.”

“Maybe she didn’t physically carry out the job, but the odds are she hired someone to do the job for her.”

“There has to be a reason why you think Christine is capable of retaliation. You mentioned the essay, but can you give me a few more examples of irrational behavior?”

“I could give you dozens. Several months ago, Joan Spence, a mutual friend of ours, and I compared notes and came up with the names of six friends who experienced accidents or property vandalism during our freshman and sophomore years in high school. One of the guys had broken up with Christine, and the girls had either gone out with a boy Christine liked or they had bested Christine in some activity.

“Christine denied any involvement, but there was speculation that she had meted out her own brand of justice. A car was keyed, a bike was stolen, money was stolen out of a locker, profane graffiti was sprayed on the sidewalk in front of Nina’s house and Linda’s science project was destroyed.

“Abbie Clarke beat out Christine for cheerleader, and a week later her tires were slashed. Of course, Christine claimed she wasn't in the vicinity at the time the of the incident. That was about the same time Christine transferred to a different school, so Abbie let the matter drop.”

“I don’t understand, Teresa. Christine sounds like that kind of girl that well brought up girls avoid. Why did your friendship last as long as it did?”

“Because I was insecure back then. I refused to accept the obvious because I needed a friend. My friend Joan and I didn’t put the puzzle together until last year. Christine has always had a silver tongue, and she’s manipulative. But . . she can be fun and charming. I closed my eyes to her negative character traits. I continued to do so even as an adult.

"You couldn’t have convinced me that she wasn’t a good friend until I read Carla Rhodes’ book Sweet Justice last year. The main character was a mirror image of Christine. For the first time, I realized that Christine was sick. I backed away from our friendship.

“I loaned the book to Joan, and her reaction was similar to mine. The villain’s personality and character traits mirrored Christine’s. The incidents the character Paula was involved in were different and yet eerily similar to the incidents in Christine's life."

Ginny's ears perked up. Sweet Justice She had heard that book title before. "Tell me more about the book."

"The book is about an amoral woman named Paula who is convinced that she is invincible. Her mother, a wealthy socialite, is killed by a hit and run driver. It turns out that Paula was the driver of the car.

“When she is questioned by the police about her various crimes, she claims to have black-outs. Her family is convinced that she has a bipolar disorder. Paula’s thoughts were scary. The only reason I finished reading the book is because I kept thinking that Paula and Christine were cut from the same cloth.”

“Did you say that the author's name is Carla Rhodes?”

Teresa nodded. “It was her first book. Her photo wasn’t on the cover, and her bio didn’t mention where she lived. If an email address had been on the cover, I would have written to her.”

“I could be way off track, but I suspect that Carla Rhodes has a writing loft in Selma. I’ll verify the facts and let you know.”

Teresa shivered. “Excuse me a second, Ginny.” She rose from the table, and crossed the room to the hostess stand. While she was speaking to the hostess, she gazed around the room. When she returned, she whispered, “Sorry. I had the strangest feeling that someone was watching me. I went to the hostess stand so I could look around the room without being conspicuous. There’s a man sitting by himself at a table three tables behind me. Make a mental note of any outstanding features in case he turns out to be a stalker.

“A couple of years back, an old flame stalked me for weeks, so I tend to get a little jittery when a strange man stares too long.”

The server put steaming bowls of chili and salads in front of them. “Enjoy your lunch ladies. I’ll check with you later in case you need anything else.”

When the server moved away from the table Ginny said, “Thank God I’ve never been stalked. How did it end?”

“Fortunately, he moved on. Later, he apologized, but I’m not as trusting as I used to be.”

“I sensed someone looking me over before you arrived. If it was the man at the third table behind you, he just left.”

“Good. He was probably harmless. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll put off answering the rest of your questions until after we’ve eaten.”

When Ginny and Teresa were leaving Simon’s, Teresa grabbed Ginny’s arm. “Ginny . . . wait. What I’m going to say sounds like sour grapes from a disgruntled friend, but I have nothing to gain by accusing Christine of bad behavior. Joan and I are convinced that Christine wasn’t raped. It pains me to say this, but I think she and the so-called rapist were involved.

"Since I read Carla Rhodes' book, I have read several articles about mental disorders. I'm convinced that Christine is a sociopath.

"You are making a harsh assessment, Teresa.”

“Yes, I am. I've seen Christine in action and her behavior isn't normal.”

“Why would she lie about being raped?”

“I believe that there was rough sex involved, but sex that she consented to. I think she cried wolf because George and Ruth were waiting up for her. If Kevin had raped her, Christine would have found a way to castrate him.”

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