Oliver and Violetta wandered through the remains of a small orchard. The apple trees were heavy with fruit, and Vi smiled. She knew her parents would arrive sometime in the next hour or two, and so would her younger sisters. It would be the first time their family was together in almost twenty two years.
“Do you remember how shocked mom was when you invited her over to your townhouse? She fainted. It was so good she was sitting down when I walked into the living room.” Vi carried her son on her hip, her daughter was on Oliver’s shoulders.
“You were pregnant with these two. You’d been gone from over twenty years. I still don’t know how you survived.” Oliver shook his head as he spoke.
“Maggie. I’m going to honor her today. She passed away two years ago today. She loved apple picking time. We had two apple trees on the ranch.”
“You’re comfortably well off because of those ranches. It took the government a while, but they sold off everything and made sure you four are going to be okay. Ollie and Maggie will be able to do whatever they want to with their lives.” Her brother sounded relieved at the outcome.
Vi had been surprised when the ranches were deemed to be proceeds of crime by the Montana state prosecutors after winning their case against the Williams clan. It had been so satisfying to hear Johnny sentenced to the death penalty for his role. The other two surviving Williams brothers had been sentenced to multiple consecutive life sentences and would live out their lives in federal prisons.
“All the other women who were kidnapped before us, forced into marriages. They are doing okay according to the therapists reports at the last sentencing hearings. Those women were taken so long ago, some of them don’t even have family who still remember them. I’m trying to decide if it would be worth writing my story,” Vi confessed.
“If you did all the research, and put together the history of the Williams brothers, kind of a true crime thing, it would work. Those stories are really popular, and told by someone who lived through it, would make it even more appealing to certain audiences.” Oliver sounded like he might approve.
“Yeah, but what would mom and dad think?” Vi worried.
“It doesn’t matter. If it will help you to deal with it, and it’s something you really want to do, go for it. I think dad will talk mom into accepting your decision.”
“I’m going to start the research then,” Vi made up her mind.
“I found out the other day, mom was the one who couldn’t bear to see your face and insisted on hiding all your pictures. Ophelia and Ginny were so young when you were kidnapped, they didn’t remember. Ginny was a newborn.”
“Well Ginny has been the best babysitter I could imagine. Every time I’ve gone to group, or had a therapy session, she’s been there. So has Lia. But you’re the one who stepped up first.”
“I never gave up on you Vi, we did everything together before you were taken. I didn’t know what to think when Mom told me not to talk about you. It was like a piece of me was missing. I’m so happy you bought this place. The acreage and the mini orchard are great.”
“Let’s let these two run. They love it out here. I’ve been out picking up the fallen apples and gave the entire bushel to the neighbors. They’ve got a couple of horses. They were pretty happy to see I’m going to get the trees back into shape. I’m going to have an arborist come out and take care of them. They’re not that old. Lot’s of productive years left for them.” Vi put Ollie down on his feet, holding his hands above his head until he was balanced.
“Do you feel safe?” Oliver swung his niece down from his shoulders, and she squealed.
“I’m good. It’s strange. I don’t like the city. I guess I grew up a country girl underneath the horror. Don’t get me wrong I was so glad to see you when we got off the helicopter after they rescued us. And I’ll always be grateful for the care and help you gave me until the twins were born.” Vi said thoughtfully.
“I’m surprised. Will you invite the others out here for the reunion this year?”
“Do you think I can get the renovations done by Thanksgiving? I think the summer would be better. I’ll have all the rooms done by then. The house is big, and I’m wanting to finish the bed and breakfast. I can’t wait to have guests. Who would’ve thought I’d love cooking and having a home as much as I do?”
Oliver shook his head again. “I look at you and can’t believe my eyes. You were so scared and so beaten when we left Montana. You had no idea about technology, computers were completely foreign. I mean we had to teach you about the internet and Face Book, messenger and everything else when Annie and Dougal had us over before everyone left for home.”
“I miss them,” Vi admitted.
“Of course, you do. They're your family. Rea, Jenny, and Missy are my sisters now too. I can’t wait to see them all again. In fact, I’ve been face timing with Rea a lot lately. I really like her little brothers too.”
“Really,” Vi turned to face her brother. “Are you serious?”
“She’s a special woman. And I love Rosie and Robert. We’re taking it pretty slow though. She’s got a lot to work through. She still hasn’t made it to group.”
“You’ve got a lot to think about. Are you going to move down there, or is she coming up here? Gabe and Julie are pretty protective.”
“Gabe and I get along pretty well. Jonah and Joey are on my side too. Julie is still trying to get Rea to talk about some of the worst parts of being Johnny’s wife.” Oliver was matter of fact about it, but the sneer in his voice when he spoke about Rea’s life showed how much it hurt him.
“Her dad is okay with either way. Would you be mad at me if I sold my place and moved down there?”
“I’d miss you like crazy, but I want you happy Oliver. And Rea is stronger than she thinks. Johnny messed her up pretty bad though. She told me about how bad it got, and how her body betrayed her. It happened like that for all of us, it’s so confusing.”
“I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like, but I know it wasn’t your fault. I’m glad I went to some sessions of my own to deal with the anger.” Oliver said.
“Abuse like I went through, is going to bubble it’s way into my life no matter how well I’ve dealt with it in therapy. Dr. Hope said it always will come up. Something will jog the memories, and it will be back like I’m still in the middle of it.”
“Are you coping with the flashbacks?”
“I’m going to try that new rapid eye movement therapy next week. I hope it’s effective. I’m not having nightmares as often, and this new treatment should help even more.” Vi was hopeful.
“Look at Ollie go,” Oliver switched the topic.
“Hey, Ollie get the apples,” Vi called after her son. She pulled a bushel basked off the stack she’d brought up earlier in the week and placed it close to the nearest tree.
Ollie reached down grasping a Gala apple in his chubby hands. Carrying something was a new skill for the twenty month old toddler. Not wanting to let her brother get the better of her, Maggie sat down beside the basket and reached for the apples scattered on the ground around her. The twins were as blond as their mother and had inherited her brown eyes as well. She preferred to believe Ollie’s stubborn square chin came from her father.
Shouts and laughter had her turning her head to see the rest of the family coming down the lane from her yard. Ginny and Lia were in the lead, and her mother walked slowly, leaning on the cane she needed now that her hip was failing. Her father, an older version of her brother, ambled through the gate, and closed it behind him.
She wished more of their extended family could have come to help, but with the step ladders, and the way Ginny liked to climb trees, she didn’t think they’d have much trouble getting all the apples. The crop was light, too many branches crossed and tangled to make for anything better.
“Ophelia, be careful, make sure the ladder is solid before you climb it,” her mother’s cautious nature was immediately apparent.
“Oh mom, it’s only a step ladder. I’m barely three feet up,” Lia protested.
Ginny grinned and swung herself onto the first branch and stood on the sturdy limb. “If she’s worried about Lia, I’m going to give her fits,” She laughed as she pulled herself up onto the next higher branch. “Toss me a basket please!”
Her father snagged one from the pile and stretched his arms over his head to hand it to his daughter.
“Let’s get down to business.” He slipped the folding chair he was carrying out of its bag and set it firmly in the shade of the tree.
“Thank you, Henri,” his wife settled herself, putting her cane under her seat. “Are you going to make applesauce, Violetta?”
Vi’s face clouded, thinking of the days before their rescue. Maggie’s determined search for voices on the radio, and the exciting news, of her contact with Morgan. She hoped her daughter would be as courageous as her sister captive. She’d teach her about her aunt Maggie once she was old enough to understand.
Looking at her mother, she knew she’d have a battle there. Mom still didn’t want to talk about it with her and insisted a little girl shouldn’t have to know. Forcing a smile, she said, “Of course, and I want to freeze a bunch for apple pies.”
“I’ll help you, dear,” her mother volunteered. “I can teach how to make the flakiest pastry.”
“I know, mom. You’re pies are the best,” Violetta went over to stand beside her.
“Did anyone remember to bring a blanket. It looks like the twins are going to take a nap,” her father asked.
“In my bag, dad. It’s over there, by the baskets.” Vi pointed to the quilted baby bag.
She knew her mother wanted her to forget her time in captivity, but she knew it was a part of her she needed to celebrate. Survival like hers, is an indication of internal strength, and by God, she’d tell her story whenever someone needed inspiration. She’d enjoyed the reporters, and the television interviews. She knew exactly what she’d do in the future. The story had to be told, and she’d get her sisters to tell it from their point of view too.
The Missing Seven Story, the title was a given. Her mother would have a chapter too. So would all the families who were part of the tragedy. She looked over to where her father spread the blankets on the only patch of grass big enough to pillow them from the rough ground. Her children would have a book to read when the time came. They’d know how strong their mother is.
Motivational speaking and inspirational writing. Not a bad career path for a girl who’d been hidden from the world for almost twenty years. She knelt behind her father where he’d stretched out beside the twins. And a bed and breakfast to run when she wasn't travelling. She'd need a nanny. Could she trust anyone with her babies?
“Dad, what do you think about me taking some night classes in creative writing and reporting? I want to tell my story to the world.” Vi asked.
“Do what makes your heart sing.” He said. “Don’t worry about your mother, she’s so proud of your strength. She’ll come around. I talked her into talking to the priest about it.”