Long Winding Road Trip Away From The Asylum Part Eleven
The holiday season has begun!
2020 style, but I hope every single one of you is finding some love and joy in this time of year, even if it's just cuddling up under a warm blanket and enjoying an escape in a good story. <3
The doll was his. Wren held it carefully, still a bit stunned by how long Noah and the old lady who owned the shop—whose name they learned was Bernadette—had gone back and forth over the price. Not really haggling, but Noah kept asking for details which only spurred the price up.
By both his Dom’s and the old lady’s satisfied smiles, that had been intentional and made them both very happy. Noah put the charge on his credit card, adding a bit extra for the gimmicky, large black coffin-shaped box Bernadette brought out for them.
Laying the doll carefully on the black tissue within, Wren stood back as Bernadette closed the box, handing it to him with a knowing smile. “That’s a good man you’ve got there. You let him know I know exactly what he was doing, and I appreciate it.”
“I will, ma’am.” Talking to strangers was never really comfortable, but the old lady was friendly and safe. Wren looked over at Noah, who’d gone back to admiring the antique weapons, then old fashioned writing supplies, picking up a fancy quill and a little ink bottle he clearly planned to add to their purchases. His Dom wouldn’t have left his side if he was worried. “I wasn’t sure I should let him spend that much on me, but it feels better because it will help you and it’s an amazing store. I hope you can keep it open for a long time. Maybe I’ll come back here one day, even though road trips aren’t really my thing…” What did people who didn’t know one another usually talk about? He chewed on his bottom lip. “The...weather seems nice here.”
Bernadette chuckled and patted his arm. “I’m not one for small talk either, young man. Here, come look at these old journals while you wait. They most certainly aren’t for sale, they were my great-grandmother’s—I was named after her. But they tell a more real version of this town’s history than anything you’ll hear from the locals.”
Taking the book Bernadette held out to him, Wren went to an armchair placed near the front corner of the shop, in a little nook that seemed deliberately built to keep the sun from shining on the bookshelves, a small crystal lamp on a table to read by. He relaxed into the cushions, gaze scanning over the elegant writing on each page, sinking into the retelling of sometimes uneventful days, followed by challenges that seemed to push the writer to her limit. There was sickness and death. Hardships he couldn’t fully grasp because they wouldn’t be an issue now, but he could imagine how difficult they would have been back then. Days without rain bringing fears of what would happen to crops. Harsh winters, wolves and bears and other wildlife being a constant worry. A child being killed by some kind of animal while playing a little too far from home, and all the adults coming up with stories about monsters they hoped would scare their little ones enough to keep them close.
Stories like that continued every time there was a tragedy, some so elaborate even the writer seemed to believe them. She agreed the town was cursed, but even when people began to move away she refused to follow. Her husband was buried here and she wanted to stay close, be buried near him when the time came. But that time hadn’t come yet.
Some days, it is easy to see how despair took everything from so many,but I refuse to let it take me. In the darkest, longest nights, the temptation is unlike anything I’ve ever faced. A sweet call, a constant whisper I must ignore. My role may be small, but I will tell our story and not leave what we’ve endured to the speculations of fools.
Little Mary came to sit on my porch today as I was writing this. She never learned how to form her letters, the teacher died of the pox last summer. Perhaps, that is something I can offer, though I have no interest in going to the dusty old schoolhouse no one has kept in order.
The children can come to me.
Wren smiled, imagining a woman who looked a lot like the store owner, sitting on her porch as more and more children came to learn from her. Parents began bringing little trinkets to show their appreciation. Things she didn’t really need, but she never refused them. Everything was stored away carefully, part of ‘their story’.
Mary has grown into a young woman. Still much too young, but I know she is lonely. She’s been shunned by so many and I know her sins. Are they worse than the man who stayed barely a month and left her behind? I do not know. She’s come to live with me and keeps my house quite well. Her needlework is ghastly, but I will teach her that as well. The silly little thing calls me mother. I can not allow it, her mother will forgive her one day and accept her back where she belongs. The shame must not be more than her love, no matter how it seems today.
By his side, Noah looked over his shoulder. For a minute, Wren thought his Dom would tell him it was time to go. Instead, he picked up another book, leaning against the wall, one boot kicked up, and began slowly flipping through the pages.
“Would you care for some tea?” Bernadette approached them with a tray that held a plain white teapot, cream, sugar, and two white mugs, setting it on the table beside Wren. She glanced over at Noah. “There’s a chair in the storage room you can bring out to get yourself more comfortable. That book you’re looking at is by a local artist who was published in some very prestigious magazines for his beautiful pictures of the local wildlife. He brought it to me fifty years ago. It never became very popular, but I thought he captured our little urban legends very well. If you look up his name, I’m sure you’d be able to order a copy.”
Noah nodded, taking out his phone and tapping at the screen. “You’re right, and I just did. It’ll be waiting for us when we get home. I think you’ll enjoy this too, Wren. His writing style is very raw, but engaging.”
Finger on the page to keep his place, Wren looked up at his Dom and smiled. “You’ve always been good at picking books I like, sir. I’m looking forward to it.” He pressed his teeth into his bottom lip. “Should we go now? These journals are fascinating, but I know Lawson and Reed will be waiting for us.”
Tapping at his phone again, Noah shook his head. “They’re still fishing, there’s no rush. You’re a fast reader, so I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to have a tea and finish at least that one. It’s strangely peaceful here.” He put down his own book, following Bernadette to the back room and returning with another armchair as Wren fixed them each a cup of tea. Then he settled in and picked the book back up. “You’ve done a lot of the things I wanted to do with me. This is for you.”
Wren sipped his tea and gave his Dom a grateful look, thanking him softly. The road trip hadn’t been horrible, but this moment of quiet, of being able to just be still and comfortable, felt like exactly the recharge he’d needed.
And putting down the journal without knowing what happened next would’ve been difficult.
He continued reading, shifting forward a bit at the next part. Time had passed before this entry, and once he began reading, he understood why.
The cries were what made me want to breathe again. I couldn’t leave her side for days. No...no, not her side. She is gone. Over her grave, the earth is cold.
Her man returned and I was happy for her. I believed he would finally marry her and all would be well. With so many of the stories young women like her fawn over, that is how things end. What I wouldn’t give for that to have been her reality. A true love. The kind she deserved. My Frank gave me something close to that, even through the worst times, though reality isn’t nearly so pretty. I was happy with him, I knew joy. Sweet Mary had none of that.
He wasn’t cruel, not in any way anyone could see. But he took too much. Every day, his pains, his needs, were the focus. One might say that is how things should be , what a woman should give to be desired as a wife. I would never say this to anyone, but even if he’d been her husband, nothing he could have given her would have been worth what he took. And it was never enough. The little girl who sat on my porch was long gone before the sickness finally overpowered her.
When she was no longer able to tend to his needs, to give him the pity he clearly craved more than he ever did her, he packed his things and left without so much as a word about his return. We both knew he wasn’t coming back, though she watched the road for him every day.
All the horrors we have faced in Valley’s End left their scars, but none so deep as this. Not to my mind. She held the dreams, the hope, and made me believe all was not lost. He stole that from her. From...my daughter. Those who she should have belonged to abandoned her and now she is mine alone.
Even if only in memory and in Adam. Her son.
This doll she was making for him still smells like the flowers she’d dry to hang around the house in the winter, keeping the sweetness of her around me even now. It’s unfinished, I know she planned to give it hair and make its face more friendly, but there is something pure about it. Something so like her. Imperfect, but deserving of love.
Adam is crying again. He stops when I lay the doll near him. I believe he knows it is part of her, what she left for him. Maybe he can hear the songs she used to sing while hanging those flowers. I remember them, so I’ll keep singing them to keep her with us. Maybe it will keep me from wanting to go back there. From lying by her grave...and begging her not to leave me behind.
Throat tightening, Wren lifted his head and Noah put a hand on his arm, searching his eyes with concern. Blinking back the tears blurring his vision, Wren slipped off his chair and into Noah’s lap, letting his Dom hold him.
Bernadette joined them, holding out a box of tissues, then shaking her head when Wren’s lips parted. “I know what you’re going to say. Yes, the doll is special to me, but I put it in that display because it was something I knew would fit in with what we’ve turned this town into and bring in a little extra money. I don’t have any children, I don’t know who will have all this when I’m gone. But I like knowing you’ll have the doll. That you’ll know its story.” Her lips curved as Wren used a tissue to dry his eyes. “Some have said they heard singing coming from it, and that they’ll suddenly smell flowers. If you come back, you’ll have to tell me if you do too.”
“I will.” Wren hoped he would, though he wouldn’t share that with too many people. It would scare Reed and Jamie. Definitely Danny. Jared would find it interesting, and would probably have some medical reasons for the phenomenon if it ever did occur. He wanted to hear about that, to know what his Dom thought of the story, and of the doll. But right now, he couldn’t shake the feelings that Bernadette had shared with him.
That pain of loss. The smell of the dirt, the crying...only, it was his own that he heard in a distant memory. Tombstones all around, people in black. Not being sure what was happening, but knowing his parents were gone.
There had been no doll for him. Just a rough hand, closing around his and forcing him further and further away from where they lay.
As he left the store with Noah, arms wrapped around the black box, Wren sorted through his thoughts, then looked up at his Dom. “I’ve never gone back to my parents' graves. I know that’s something people do, but I never wanted to. It never...occured to me. In the journal, she visited her husband’s grave all the time. She didn’t want to leave her daughter's. And it’s sad, but...that’s not where they are anymore, right?”
“No, that’s not where they are.” Noah gave Wren a one armed hug. “But if you ever wanted to, we could go.”
Wren shook his head. “No, I just...I was thinking how I have no part of them anymore. And that never bothered me. I’m not sure if I should feel bad about that. If there should be a feeling of loss. I’m...not sure I had the same connection with them as Mary had with her baby, even though she never got to hold him. I never had it with my aunt...or with anyone before you. I didn’t really understand it at all...I’m still not sure I do.”
There was some sadness in Noah’s eyes as they walked along a dirt path to one of the other houses, this one belonging to the serial killer’s grandparents. “I think you do, but not in a way a lot of people take for granted. You went a long time without having connections to anyone. You have them now and they’re strong. Precious.”
“Because of you.” Wren lifted his gaze to meet light grey eyes, the same ones that had given him hope when he’d looked into them after losing everything. This man who’d given him a home and a family, who hadn’t given up on him, even when keeping Wren around had made his life so much more difficult than it might’ve been otherwise. “I have it all because of you.”
Noah leaned in, kissing the top of Wren’s head. “And you’ve given me plenty in return. That’s what family does. We found each other right when we needed to and I’ll be grateful for that, every single day of my life.”
Breathing in as he pressed close to his Dom’s side, Wren enjoyed the smoothness of his leather jacket against his cheek, along with the earthy scent that clung to him. “So will I.”
After a quick tour of the town, they returned to the SUV, where it hit Wren again that Reed wouldn’t love the idea of the doll and the last thing he wanted was to scare him and make it hard for him to sleep on the way to his surgery. Back home, Wren could tell him the story and he’d probably enjoy it. He was better than Jamie and Danny with horror movies, except what he called ‘the real ones’.
One day, Wren would figure out what he meant by that.
When he told his Dom his concerns, Noah gave him an approving smile, then took out all the tents and supplies before tucking the coffin box with the doll safely against the back of the seats, then placing everything back over it. He called Lawson, arranging a spot to meet up.
“We’re going to have to skip a few of the stops we planned.” Lawson let out a soft laugh and shook his head as Reed opened the cooler they’d brought with them and held up a fish for Wren to see. “It was worth it, though.”
Noah inclined his head, standing by Lawson’s side. “It really was.”
Attention completely on the fish, Reed grinned at Wren. “Next time, you have to come with us. It might not really be your thing, but gutting them would be fun, right? You can practice all that medical stuff you love learning from Jared and show him how good you are when we get back.” He sniffed, cocking his head. “Do you smell...dried flowers?”
Logically, Wren knew there could be a dozen reasons for the scent. Likely, the chair he’d sat in had absorbed it. Or there had been some around the shop he hadn’t noticed.
But part of him wanted to believe it was something else.
That he’d been given a small part of what Mary had left for the son she’d loved so much, along with the doll she’d made for him. Something he could keep.
He smiled up at Reed and nodded. “Yes. I think I do.”
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