Chapter 1 - Rude Homecoming
“Survival was my only hope, success my only revenge.”—Patricia Cornwell.
“Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged.”–Samuel Johnson
My father, Bernard Tisdale, dipped his soup spoon in his steaming bowl of beef stew. He blew on it before having a bite. “Mmm,” he groaned with pleasure while chewing. “A hint of kick to this, but delicious, Vanessa.”
My golden-haired stepmother looked flawless in black. The wrapped blouse exposed a lot of cleavage that Dad loved, considering his eyes never ventured far from it. Joining the silky top were wide-legged pants that clung to the right places on the lower half of her curvy body. Vanessa smirked at my dad while sipping her third glass of red wine. She had eaten no stew herself.
To dash the corner of my father’s mouth with her napkin, she leaned forward. Vanessa responded with her maddening baby-talk voice, “Thank you, darling. I made it extra special for you. So eat up!”
With that, Dad ate another spoonful while I said nothing during this excruciating exchange where I rolled my eyes. Before I even returned home from Mansfield, Dad shared how much he had been looking forward to this meal. Vanessa, his doting wife of 11 years, made the dish at least twice a month. Of course, that was never enough for Dad. By far, his favorite comfort food, since the weather turned nippy, he could eat it once a day if he had his way.
A blustery gale customary off the shores of Lake Erie accompanied the late autumn that marched on toward the winter solstice. It chilled the hearts as much as the bones of the folks inhabiting Burns City, Ohio. Most of the leaves stripped off their branches by the wind, swirled to the ground, browned and brittle. No longer fields of green, all had been plowed of their last harvest more than a month ago. The farmers treated their lands with the churn of manure in preparation for the next season.
I opted out of the stew (not my favorite) and nibbled on a grilled cheese sandwich I prepared on the fresh rye bread I brought home from a popular local bakery. Finished at uni earlier than I thought, I traveled a day ahead of schedule to surprise Dad. The moment I drove up the driveway in my old Honda coupe, he made his way outside to greet me, grinning and eyes twinkling. He grabbed me up in a bear hug and squeezed the stuffing out of me. It thrilled dad to see me. The grin across my face beamed with happiness that he really missed me. I felt the same.
Vanessa stared at us a moment, infuriated, while texting on her phone. As if I cared, right? What mattered to me was that my dad looked more sallow over the last few weeks we skyped since I headed back to school. I worried about him working too hard. As usual, Dad claimed to be as strong as an ox and would be fine.
“It’s so great to have you here where you belong, Snow,” Dad said with his smile toward me across the dining room table. “Home doesn’t feel the same without my favorite girl.” He reached for my hand, and I gave it to him. Dad kissed it. I giggled, noticing not for the first time the hint of jealousy on Vanessa’s pretty pouting face. Served her right to think that she could ever replace my mother or me in my dad’s heart.
“It’s nice to be back at my home.” I smirked, loving every minute of my stepmother’s flinch.
Yeah, I said it. My house. My home.
Oh, Vanessa tried over the years to make it her own. The truth was that the dwelling and surrounding property were all mine. Dad mentioned it in his will drafted after my mom died. Also, on my 24th birthday (a short four years away), the household in the country would be transferred to my trust when I finished school. In the event that I failed to graduate with a degree from uni, the trust would delay the release until I turned 30 to ensure I was mature enough to handle the responsibility.
Vanessa hated that, but I loved this house. So did Mom. She designed every room. Her presence filled every space. I felt closer to my mother whenever I was there.
“I take it you’ll meet up with your old gang, huh?” Dad asked before he took another scoop of stew.
“Yep, later.” Because we finished exams for the semester, friends from high school and I itched to see each other live in the flesh as we did over the summer. The four of us video chatted almost every week to remember how each other looked. We texted as often to bitch over classes, the lack of anything fun to do, and being way too poor to date.
Nothing beat hanging with the gang live, you know? I missed my support group because, if I could be honest? Making friends at Ohio State University wasn’t easy. The Mansfield campus was a different world, although beautiful in the lay of trees in the central part of the state. An adjustment of sorts, it was the first time I lived away from home to the north.
While my roommate, who hailed from Chillicothe to the south, was civil, I could not trust Beatrice as far as I could throw her. A weakling, you could imagine that’s not distant. We got along fine, yet not much was said. She stayed on her designated side of the dorm room and me on the other.
Why the bad feelings? Well, the girl sported a shaved head and Gothic clothes. Some of her decorations included figurines of skulls and framed sketches in detail of murdered corpses. She never smiled, and I never saw her with friends, provided she had any. In a nutshell, Beatrice creeped me the hell out.
What gave me the wrong vibe was when I’d find her watching me sleep. At such times, she accused me of snoring. I so didn’t do that. Often, Beatrice eavesdropped on my conversations, throwing shade, wanting to add commentary not invited to provide.
Very rude and creepy. Yeah, like a total troll. Anyway, Beatrice’s comments made me turn my Facebook page to private. Hell, the only reason I stayed on Facebook was that Dad insisted on it to keep in touch with him and distant family living across the country. My grandparents on my dad’s side still lived and retired to a senior community in Arizona. Mom’s parents moved back to the Pacific Northwest, where my grandfather spent his youth.
“So, honey, how was school this semester?” Dad inquired as he smiled at me with what could only be pride gleaming in his blue eyes.
“You know; same old thing.” I shrugged at him, wearing his handsome business attire. Dad unbuttoned the top collar of his dress shirt and removed his tie. Rolled-up sleeves revealed muscular forearms. Dad didn’t learn how to pace himself. He traveled for work frequently or put in long hours at the office downtown. It was rare when he took time off for himself. Too bad I couldn’t say the same for his wife.
Next to him was my gorgeous stepmother, that fake smile of hers plastered on her face like she loved hearing any conversation that didn’t involve her. Vain and flaky, Vanessa made it common knowledge early in her marriage to my dad that she believed shipping me off to boarding school was a grand idea. All for my benefit, of course. Dad couldn’t be persuaded to do it.
Comprehending that he was a decent judge of character in how he chose his business associates with exceptional talent, it astounded me that Dad didn’t see right through my stepmother’s big boobs and small waist. However, he loved her. I never wanted to give him flack in his poor taste in the gold-digging woman. Vanessa gave him the comfort I couldn’t. I supposed that she was good for something. Still, I didn’t have to love her.
“Awww, come on, Snow.” Dad lowered his spoon and offered me a crooked smirk. “I know you better than that. Your grades have improved like you promised.”
I nodded, returning the infectious upward curve of his lips. It was difficult for me to pull his leg. Dad understood how ambitious I was, yet the transition of being so far from home took getting used to it. “Sure, Dad. The best. Last semester is a distant memory.”
My freshmen year was nearly a bust. Kinda shocking to Dad and me, for sure. He gave me his usual pep talk whenever I fell in a rut. Encouraged, I turned it around. The critical change made was to deliver what the professor asked. Once I recognized that, I wound up altering my poor performance into a B-average overall.
My sophomore year so far piggybacked on my previous success. I received better grades this semester based on the assignments accomplished. The Dean’s List glimmered in my future! I worked hard for that achievement, but the truth was that I always enjoyed learning.
“That’s my girl! I knew you could do it, and I’m so proud of you. Tisdales never—” Dad coughed right in the middle of his statement. He tried to drink water and hacked again. His face turned an alarming shade of maroon.
To myself, I smiled, knowing the familiar phrase Dad recited about Tisdales never quitting. Instead, as I gawked at my father with stew dribbling out of his mouth, I abandoned my grilled cheese.
“Dad? What’s wrong?”
The strongest man I knew grabbed his neck. Tears filled his strained blue eyes. He stared at me with a look like he wanted to say something. Dad never made even a passing glance at Vanessa before his head slumped in the hearty stew. His eyes stared at me glossy and wide as the last squeak of air left his body.
I screamed, leaping to my feet, “Dad!”