by J. A. Buxton
This is a true story except for the parts that are not.
A Life Lesson Learned
The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
“Where’s my birthday girl?” a loud, booming voice called out, causing the child to jump up in delight.
Mae raced toward the man standing at the open kitchen door, crying out as she ran, “Poppy, you came!” Unnoticed by both of them, young Anne silently tip-toed in the opposite direction to hide behind the large iron stove. She peeked out to see her father lifting her older sister high into the air.
“Well,” said Mae’s mother, disgust fairly dripping from her voice, “what brings you around today? Just in the neighborhood?”
“Now, Birdie, be nice!” Mae’s father put his oldest daughter back on the floor after giving her a big last hug. “I just wanted to come by for a few minutes to give this to Mae.” He pulled a long, narrow box out of his jacket pocket.
When he knelt on the floor before Mae, he failed to notice his younger daughter partially hidden in the small space behind the stove. She watched her sister eagerly grab the box and rip off the gaily decorated wrapping paper. Anne’s eyes opened wide in surprise when she saw the string of pearls Mae took out of the box. Never in her short life had she seen anything so beautiful as that delicate necklace. I wonder if he has a present for me, too. Anne hoped he would call out for her soon and wondered what her present would be. She had turned five the week before, and he had missed her birthday as he had every one in the three years since the divorce. Maybe this year he’ll remember me, too.
For the next half hour or so, Mae’s father concentrated his full attention on his oldest daughter. He praised her endlessly as her excited words fell over each other while telling him all she’d done since he last saw her a year ago. Forgotten was the woman standing nearby, still annoyed with her ex-husband for calling her by that stupid nickname of Birdie. Not even noticed by the man was the small child still hiding behind the large stove.
Maybe he’ll ask where I am, Anne thought wistfully. She didn’t even feel the hot stream of tears sliding down her pale cheeks. While listening to her father and sister laughing only feet away from her, Anne didn’t understand the almost overpowering loneliness she was feeling. When Mae stops talking, he’ll come looking for me, he really will.
She started crawling out from behind the stove when she heard her father making his good-byes and preparing to leave. She wasn’t fast enough, though. When she managed to get to her feet, she saw the back door closing and heard her father going down the outside steps. Running to the kitchen window, she just missed seeing him get inside a car parked in their driveway.
As the car drove off into the distance, she realized what her sister had told her must be true. During one of their rare sibling fights weeks earlier, Mae had taunted her little sister with the reason their father had left them.
“You were such an ugly baby and always crying,” Mae had said, unaware or simply not caring about the cruelty in her words. “Poppy couldn’t stand the sight of you anymore, and that’s why he divorced us.”
That summer day as Anne stood in the middle of the kitchen, Mae’s words swirled around her brain. Poppy left ‘cause I was too ugly went deeper and deeper into her subconscious until they took root to explain why her father didn’t want to see her. During the rest of her life, she would think of herself as too ugly for anyone to love her.
* * *
When she was a freshman in high school, a friend’s grandmother finally told Anne the truth about her parents’ divorce. The old lady whispered, as if sharing a sinful secret only she knew, “Your mom came home unexpectedly from work one afternoon to find your dad in bed with Evelyn Sterling. She and her husband lived next door to all of you back then.” The older woman stopped here to judge Anne’s reaction, and then continued at seeing only a blank look on the teenager’s face. “Your dad quickly deserted your mother and you two girls to fend for yourselves. We learned he married Evelyn only days after his divorce came through.”
Observing Anne’s shocked expression when this knowledge finally penetrated, she decided she had said enough. Only later did Anne learn her father had a son born two months after the wedding. She realized a boy was more valuable in the man’s mind than a second daughter he never wanted.
By that time, however, learning the truth about her parents’ divorce came too late. The damage had already been done.
A Final Gift
Three years later
“Mom, why do I have to get a present for her?” Eleven-year-old Mae asked this, a distinct whine in her voice. “I don’t even know her.”
Mae’s mother understood her daughter’s feelings since they pretty much mirrored her own. “I know, sweetie, but she did invite you to her party after all.” She once again showed her daughter the invitation. The cream-colored square of parchment simply had printed on it, “Mae is cordially invited to celebrate our daughter’s birthday with her.”
The Sweeney family was new to the area, having moved there only a few weeks earlier. Only the father had made an appearance so far, but everyone knew there were at least two children inside the home. Next-door neighbors recently spotted both a boy and girl peeking out from an upstairs window.
Birdie, for that was her unfortunate nickname, had a sudden thought. “Don’t you know this girl from school?” When asking this question, Birdie pulled a large package out of a shopping bag. “I don’t even know how old this Sweeney girl is. I hope this will do for a gift.” When she placed the box containing a jigsaw puzzle of 500 pieces on the table, she continued, “If you’re invited, she must be around your age, right?”
Mae shrugged. “There’s nobody new in my class this year. Maybe she’s younger, and they just mixed me up with Anne.” She looked around. “Where’s Anne? She might know this girl.”
“She’s upstairs in her room since I am punishing her for lying.” A spasm of anger crossed Birdie’s face at remembering why she was upset with her younger daughter. About a year before, Birdie had remarried, gaining not just a new husband but a stepdaughter. The usual pangs of melding together a blended family erupted that morning in an unexpected way.
She remembered the words her youngest daughter had said, almost in a whisper. “He came into my room last night.”
Birdie tried to put that dreadful sentence out of her mind and concentrated on the mystery of the Sweeney girl. “The party is soon, so you’d better put on a clean dress.” She grimaced at seeing her daughter’s present outfit, a T-shirt with ragged jeans. “Now scoot!”
An hour later, Mae walked up the path to the Sweeney home. In her hands was the newly wrapped jigsaw puzzle. When she knocked on the front door, it immediately opened as if someone was standing on the other side just waiting for her.
“Oh dear,” was her greeting from a frazzled-appearing woman. “My daughter didn’t tell me you were…” She left the sentence unfinished when a boy of around fourteen wandered into the hallway. There was a vague, faraway look in his eyes, and he walked past Mae out the open front door without saying a word.
“Sorry, he got out of his room. I’ll go get him.” This excited comment brought Mae’s attention back from watching the boy as he continued down the pathway. Coming toward her, almost at a run, was a girl more Anne’s age than hers.
A few minutes later, the girl caught up with the boy and quickly brought him back inside the house. They passed Mae as if she was invisible, and she watched them about to disappear into a dark room off the hallway.
“You must excuse us,” said the woman, moving to block Mae’s view of the two children. “The children don’t mean to be rude, but I’m afraid I’ll have to cancel the birthday party.” Without warning, she reached over and took the package from Mae. “I’ll be sure to have her send you a ‘thank you’ note. Goodbye!” Mae found herself none-too-gently pushed outside, and the door slammed shut in her face.
* * *
This was the last time Mae or anyone else saw these two children. The reason why Mae received an invitation to the party would forever remain a mystery. A week after the aborted birthday party, the Sweeney house once again stood empty, the people having moved away in the middle of the night.
“Mae, did you read the story in the paper today?” asked Anne. This was the first time she had spoken to either her sister or mother since leaving her bedroom after the punishment for supposedly lying. Anne had changed from an outgoing child to one withdrawn and rarely speaking.
Before Mae could answer, Birdie asked, “What does it say, sweetie?” Anne saw through her mother’s attempt to smooth things over between them with this question. Without another word, she put the newspaper down and left the room.
Shaking her head at her daughter’s continued refusal to take back what she had said about her stepfather, Birdie picked up the abandoned paper. She immediately knew which article Anne had wanted her sister to read.
She silently read the big black letters across the top of page one. Bodies of two kidnapped children found. Shocked at those words, she continued, The alleged murderers, Raymond and Joyce Sweeney, escaped before the authorities discovered the children’s decomposing bodies in a deserted warehouse. The last sentence caused her to moan in horror. Scattered around the children were hundreds of jigsaw pieces. The top cover of the puzzle box showed a tranquil scene of children at play in a field of wildflowers.
Mae interrupted her thoughts by coming to read the newspaper over her shoulder. Birdie tried to hide the paper from her daughter, but Mae was too quick and was able to read part of the article.
“Mom, are those the kids I told you about from next door?” When Birdie wordlessly nodded, Mae asked another question. “Was the birthday party invitation a way to lure me to their house in order to kidnap me?”
That question stayed unanswered since the police never caught Raymond and Joyce Sweeney.
An Unexpected Gift
One year later
“Anne,” yelled Birdie up the stairs to her daughter, “get down here. You’ve got mail.”
Nine-year-old Anne, not at all curious about who would be sending her mail, waited almost five minutes before clumping down the stairs. In the last few weeks, she had become even more sullen and quieter than ever. Birdie had given up trying to find what was wrong with her youngest daughter. Forgotten was what the once-trusting child had confided in her a year earlier.
Anne finally walked into the kitchen where her mother was washing the breakfast dishes, after waiting impatiently for her daughter to come downstairs. Birdie had placed a box wrapped in brown paper on the kitchen table, and Anne looked at it with a bored expression.
“Well,” complained her mother, “aren’t you going to open it?” She dried her hands and stood by the sink, watching Anne shrug with indifference before picking up the box and shaking it. Without further acknowledging the older woman’s presence, Anne silently left the kitchen, the package held carelessly in her hands.
Only after she reached her bedroom and closed the door did Anne show interest in the package. She tossed it on the bed and sat down to stare for a few seconds at the box. She noticed there was no return address on the brown paper, and above her address was only the one word, “Anne.” There was no last name.
Unable to stifle her curiosity any longer, Anne ripped the paper off to reveal a present covered in birthday wrapping paper. “Birthday paper?” she said out loud, a bit confused. “My birthday was months ago. Who would send me a gift this late?” No one, of course, answered this rhetorical question.
Revealed after Anne removed the fancy wrapping paper was a medium-size, cardboard box. When she took off the cover, the first item that she saw was a note. The small card was lying on top of what looked to be a stock of writing paper. On the card in big block letters were two words, and only two. “Happy Birthday? I wonder who sent this. Why didn’t they sign the card?” Anne again asked this of the empty room.
Putting the mysterious note beside her on the bedspread, Anne next focused her attention on the writing paper. She traced one finger over the top sheet, fascinated by the feel of the expensive and high-quality vellum paper. Lifting the stack of what turned out to be 100 sheets, she found two piles of matching envelopes.
The only clue to who might have sent this remarkable gift was the embossed coat of arms on the top of each sheet. Why was I sent something about the Carrigan family? Do I know anybody with that name? Anne’s confused thoughts whirled around her mind while she tried to remember anyone with that name.
A quick knock on her door interrupted her, and Birdie walked into the bedroom without waiting for permission. Anne frowned at this lack of manners, privacy being very important to her. She said nothing, though, and simply watched Birdie slowly cross the room to look down at the open box of writing paper.
Her mother’s whisper of “Oh, no!” confused her. Seeing her mother’s face turn pale in shock confused her even more.
“What’s wrong? Do you know someone named Carrigan? Who are they? Why did I get this from them?” Anne peppered her mother with these questions, but Birdie didn’t answer.
Birdie looked at her daughter, anger replacing her shocked expression. “I can’t tell you. He shouldn’t have sent this. He promised to stay away. He promised he would, and now he’s back.” Those last few words, filled with such spite, frightened Anne. Birdie had a terrible temper and often took it out on her children. This time, though, Birdie just glared at her trembling daughter before leaving the bedroom, still complaining loudly about the man’s return.
Anne knew better than to ask her mother for an explanation. Instead, when Birdie left to do some shopping, Anne came downstairs to go through her mother’s desk. The desk was off limits to the children, but Anne knew her mother kept important papers in the bottom drawer. She sat down on the carpet to explore the contents of that drawer.
Inside, she found papers related to the purchase of their home and other legal forms. Old receipts and pink slips for their cars over the years intermingled with other papers of no interest to the curious girl. At the very bottom of the messy pile, Anne discovered three birth certificates. The top one was for her stepsister listing Anne’s stepfather and his first wife as Jean’s parents. Next was her sister Mae’s birth certificate. There was no surprise there with Birdie and their biological father listed.
Finally, and of most interest to Anne, she pulled out her own birth certificate. Her eyes widened in surprise at not seeing the name of the man she’d always thought of as her biological father. “Bruce Carrigan,” she whispered. “My father is someone called Bruce Carrigan?”
“I remember him.” Anne jumped up in shock at hearing her sister’s voice only inches behind her. She had been so intent on finding out her mother’s secret that she hadn’t heard Mae coming into the room.
“He used to come for coffee with Mom when Dad was at work.” Mae continued to share her memories with Anne. “They laughed a lot, more than Mom did with Dad.” She started smiling when she saw her younger sister eagerly leaning forward to hear more. For the next half hour, Anne learned more about the man who obviously was her real father.
Anne asked one last question. “Our father knew I wasn’t his, didn’t he?” She hoped that might explain why he ignored her on his rare visits.
Mae didn’t answer and simply walked from the room. Her malicious laugher left Anne wondering what her sister wasn’t telling her.
The Favored One's Party
A few months later
“Anne, get over here this minute and help. I’m sick of your being so rude to Jean.” Birdie watched her youngest daughter heave a big sigh before ever-so-slowly joining her at the kitchen table.
Anne, jealous of the blatant favoritism Birdie showed her stepdaughter, felt put upon with having to help plan Jean’s birthday party. So what if she’s going to be 13 tomorrow? What’s so great about becoming a teenager? Anne thought, feeling insignificant from the viewpoint of her mere nine years. Nevertheless, she tried to show enthusiasm for the sake of peace in the family.
“What do you want me to do?” she asked, pasting a smile on her face. Might as well get it over with since Mom will hound me until I help. No sign of her rebellious thoughts came across to Birdie, and the two of them set out to finish planning the party.
Around 5:30 p.m., they finally discussed what decorations to use. Both looked up when Lawson, Anne’s stepfather, opened the back door and came into the kitchen. He sniffed the air before saying in a loud, booming voice, “No supper ready? You girls too busy to feed me?” He laughed after saying that, as if to take away the implied complaint in his questions. When he came over to where Anne was sitting, he put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently. “And how’s my special girl today?”
Birdie was still looking at the items on the table and didn’t notice Anne’s body stiffening in reaction to his touch. Lawson did, though, and smiled benignly down at Anne. He moved his hand from Anne’s tense shoulder to the nape of her neck. His fingers slowly caressed the soft skin, his attention now on Birdie until she looked up at him. Only then did he remove his hand from Anne’s neck to give Birdie his undivided attention.
Anne jumped up from her chair and whispered, “Excuse me, Mom. I’ve got homework to do.” Before she ran from the kitchen, she watched her stepfather pull Birdie into a rough embrace, what the young girl knew was his version of foreplay.
That evening, while trying to get to sleep, Anne remembered the first time he came to meet the family, only a month before he and Birdie married.
* * *
On that day a few years ago, Anne overheard him in the living room talking to her mother and hesitated before joining them.
“Birdie, what kind of a name is that?” Lawson was sitting beside on the sofa and moved closer to Birdie while asking this. To Anne’s amazement, she heard her mother giggle.
“I’ve had that nickname since I was a baby. My Daddy said I looked like a little bird when I opened my mouth for Mom’s breast.” Birdie saw Lawson looking look down at her own breasts when she said this. Without conscious thought, she arched her back.
“So, what’s your real name?” Lawson brought his attention back to Birdie’s face, not at all abashed at her noticing his wandering eyes.
“My parents named me after my father’s aunt. Cora sounds so old fashioned, don’t you think? Before he could answer, Birdie frowned at the interruption of Anne coming into the room to join them. “Oh, Lawson, here’s my youngest. Anne, say hello to Lawson Granger.”
* * *
The night before Jean’s party, Anne tried to blank the images of her stepfather from her mind once she finally got into bed. When she heard the bedroom door open soon afterwards, she kept her eyes tightly closed and pretended she was already asleep. Only after the shadowed figure standing in the doorway reluctantly closed the door and leave did the fear leave her tense body.
The next morning, Birdie and Anne finalized the plans for Jean’s birthday party. The first year of marriage for Birdie and Lawson had been trying for everyone. Jean, in particular, was hostile to her new stepmother. To make matters worse, Lawson constantly overruled Birdie so that Jean ran wild, undisciplined in any way. Eventually, Birdie just let Jean do whatever she wanted, since the fighting with her stepdaughter wore her down.
Although Mae soon became friends with her new stepsister, Anne totally disliked Jean. Being forced to plan the birthday party for the “favored one” pushed Anne even further away from her mother, the wall she built in her mind steadily growing higher around her bruised emotions.
That afternoon, the front doorbell kept ringing as Jean’s classmates descended on the party one after another. Anne watched as Mae joined the noisy crowd of teenagers, not at all uncomfortable with her stepsister’s friends.
“Anne,” called out Birdie from where she was standing on the far side of the room. “Don’t be rude. Go wish your sister a happy birthday.” Anne pretended not to have heard her.
Lawson, who had stayed home from work to enjoy his daughter’s party, left Birdie’s side to walk over and hand a big box to his daughter. “Jean, I know you wanted this, but Birdie told me you were too young.” He grinned at seeing the excitement on his daughter’s face while she ripped open the package to find an expensive dress of dark-blue silk. Next, Lawson glanced at Birdie while saying, “I am the boss of this family, though, and I want my girls to enjoy all that I can give them.” After saying this, he looked over at Anne and winked.
Birdie said nothing as Lawson, once again, undermined whatever chance she had of keeping Jean in line. Instead, she crossed the room to where Anne was still watching the boisterous party. In a low, angry voice, Birdie said, “Anne, I told you to wish your sister a happy birthday. Show Lawson you appreciate all he’s done for you by being nice to Jean. It wouldn’t hurt you to be polite, you know.”
Anne silently looked at her mother before leaving the room, crying inside because of trust lost and words left unspoken.
The Big Bicentennial Bash
A few months after the party
“You going out again?” complained Lawson, watching his wife putting her coat on. “When’s that big, fancy to-do happening?”
Birdie barely glanced at him while heading toward the door. “I told you a dozen times already. The committee I’m on is putting the plans together for our town’s bicentennial birthday celebration.” She looked around just before opening the door to give her husband an instruction she had stressed for the past few weeks. “I’ll be gone for a couple hours, and all you have to do is make sure the girls stay in their rooms to do their homework.” With that, Birdie was gone, unknowingly once again leaving the fox to guard the henhouse.
* * *
An hour passed with an undercurrent of tension filling the second-floor bedrooms. Mae, who shared a room with Jean, silently anticipated what she knew would happen next. Unlike her mother and stepsister, Mae knew the reason why Thursday evenings frightened Anne. She waited for her younger sister to make her trip downstairs to the safety of the bathroom. For the last few Thursdays, while Birdie was away at the weekly meetings, Anne disappeared into the only room she could lock from inside.
“There she goes,” whispered Mae, not sure if she wanted Anne to make it to the bathroom or not. She wondered if their stepfather would manage to catch her this week. Muffled noises from Anne’s room some nights only whetted her curiosity.
Jean looked up from her homework to ask, “There who goes?”
Mae didn’t answer, just listened to Anne’s footsteps going down the stair. When they stopped, she knew her stepfather had seen Anne, despite her attempt to sneak past him. Mae crept to the top of the stairs to eavesdrop on their conversation, a smile growing on her face.
She heard Lawson’s voice say, “How’s my good girl tonight? Come and sit with me.”
* * *
Downstairs, Anne watched her grinning stepfather pat his lap, encouraging her to sit there. When he spread his legs, leaving his hand resting between them, she broke out of her trance and raced for the bathroom. Behind her, she heard his loud laughter and immediately locked the door behind her.
Lawson repeated this sexual intimidation week after week, whenever Birdie left for the ongoing planning meetings at the town hall. So far, Anne had managed to evade her stepfather, but fearing what would happen on the following Thursday was breaking her spirit down. She still had to figure out a way to avoid his frequent nightly trips to her room while Birdie was sound asleep downstairs. A drastic solution came to her for the first day of the town’s bicentennial-birthday celebration.
* * *
The big day for the town arrived one hot August day. In the center of the small town, helium balloons adorned every storefront to proclaim in large letters, “Happy 200th birthday!” Children, infected with the excitement of the day, pestered their parents, constantly asking, “When’s the parade going to start?”
Lawson and Birdie found places on the sidewalk where they could have an unobstructed view of the parade. Their three daughters had disappeared into the crowd of townspeople some time earlier. Mae and Jean found their friends fairly easily, while Anne quickly began her plan to escape Lawson’s unwanted attention.
In her pocket was a crumpled slip of paper on which was an address written in her childish handwriting. Earlier in the week, she had spent hours on Mae’s computer searching for a person’s name, or rather the address of that person. Now, with that vital information saved both on the paper and in her memory, Anne began moving out of the noisy crowd milling around waiting for the parade to start.
* * *
It took two days for Anne to reach her destination. When the sounds of the town’s birthday celebration faded into the distance, she had begun the long walk to what she hoped would be a safe haven.
She realized she was taking a drastic action, but she had reached a point where it was either escape from her stepfather or find a way to kill him. Many times during those two days, the following thoughts crossed her exhausted mind, What if I have to go back? Are they looking for me? Each time, she would push the worrisome thought away and keep walking.
On the second day, an afternoon storm caught her out in the open and soaked her to the skin. She had spent the previous night sleeping in an old barn, sharing the warm room and hay with two Jersey cows. Stray bits of hay found their way next to her skin and stuck to her wet clothes even after the rain ended.
It was late evening of the second day when Anne stopped in front of a large house. She wearily read the name on the mailbox and knew her journey was over. When she saw some lights were still on inside, her small hand reached up and tentatively knocked on the door.
She heard footsteps coming toward her and was trying to straighten her ruined dress when the door opened. A tall, blonde woman stood there, looking down at the frightened child.
“Does Mr. Carrigan live here?” Anne asked this question in such a low whisper that the woman had to lean down to hear her. When the woman nodded, Anne’s second question was even softer. “Is he home now?”
The woman called out to someone behind her, “Honey, there’s someone to see you.” She then gently brought Anne inside, ignoring the disheveled, filthy condition of the strange child, and closed the door behind them.
“Who is it?” Anne watched as the man asking this joined them. She was shaking, from both the dampness in her clothes and fear she wouldn’t be welcome. In front of her stood her father, only mild curiosity reflected in his expression.
Would he let me stay or make me go back? thought Anne. Have I made a horrible mistake?
Out with the Old, In with the New
Approximately three years later
“The biological parents of the minor child, Anne Woodworth, will share joint custody. Until she reached the age of 18, she will spend the first half of each year with her mother, Cora Sterling. For the remaining months, she will live with her father, Bruce Carrigan. That is my final judgment.” With that decision, Judge McClanahan brought down his gavel and sealed the fate of 11-year-old Anne.
* * *
When Anne had arrived at her father’s home that rainy day a year earlier, she soon felt comfortable with both him and his wife, Doris. Eventually, she told them why she made the long, dangerous trip to find them.
“I tried once to tell Mom he was hurting me.” Anne started to cry before she whispered, “She just got mad and called me a liar with a dirty mind.” With the floodgates of her emotions opened, Anne poured out what her stepfather had done when he crept into her bedroom. Her childish words, for actions she didn’t fully understand, shocked the two listening adults.
After she had put the exhausted child to bed in the spare room, an angry Doris confronted her husband. “We can’t make her go back there. If you are her father, you’ll have to fight for her.” Bruce nodded, and the long battle began.
* * *
Thus started over a year in court that ended very unsatisfactorily for everyone concerned. Lawson had vehemently denied ever abusing his stepdaughter. The judge was known to be an elderly misogynist, long overdue for retirement. Without even ordering a physical examination of Anne, he summarily ruled the word of a respected businessman carried more weight than that of a young female child.
* * *
Two years passed with Anne’s birthdays arriving almost unnoticed by her family. Mae finally reminded her mother that her sister would be turning 13 the next day. Birdie, even after two years, still didn’t believe what Anne had spoken in court about her stepfather.
“Sweetie,” Lawson seductively said to his wife, in bed that first night after the judge’s decision, “why would I want that skinny kid when I have your luscious body to play with?” He then stopped any further conversation by beginning one of his favorite, more intense sexual games. Even the bruises Birdie found on her body the next day failed to convince her it was her husband who was lying.
* * *
For those two years, Anne tried unsuccessfully to avoid Lawson. She even bought a lock for her bedroom door, but he managed to overcome that flimsy barricade very easily. She lost weight and became more withdrawn over time. Since Birdie ignored her daughter as much as possible, she didn’t notice the changes in Anne.
Mae did, though, and vicariously enjoyed what Lawson was doing to her sister. She would often stay awake in the bedroom she shared with her stepsister until she heard Lawson slowly climbing the stairs. When he closed Anne’s door behind him, 15-year-old Mae would go and listen through the door at the noises on the other side. In the last year, thanks to an older boy at her school, Mae discovered she enjoyed various types of sex play. She knew what Lawson did with her little sister and often wished he would come into her room instead, but he never did.
When Mae reminded her mother that Anne would be turning 13 the next day, it wasn’t out of the goodness of her heart. She wanted to see how Anne would behave when her stepfather gave her a birthday kiss. Maybe I should tell him of a tradition a friend of mine told me about. Birdie didn’t understand the sudden smile that appeared on Mae’s face.
The following afternoon, Anne came home from school to find all her family waiting for her. Her two sisters stood next to Birdie at the kitchen table. There, Anne saw a small birthday cake with 13 lit candles on it. Her hated, feared stepfather gave a friendly wave to encourage her further into the room.
“Happy birthday, Anne,” he said when she cautiously came closer. “How about a birthday kiss from your old man?” When he pulled Anne against his body and gave her a lingering kiss, Birdie started frowning. He saw the frown and immediately released Anne from within his tight embrace.
Before Birdie could say anything about what she thought of his overenthusiastic kiss, Mae interrupted with a suggestion, an innocent look on her face. “Dad, I heard of a birthday tradition my friend Jack has. Do you want to hear it?” Without waiting for his answer, she continued. “Jack said his father always gives his bottom a spank for every year of his age and another one to grow on. Maybe Anne would like that instead of a kiss. What do you think?”
Lawson, looking toward a horrified Anne, nodded. “That sounds like a fun tradition. Come on, let’s start it now.” He reached for his daughter before she was able to move out of his grasp.
“Oh, Dad, I forgot to tell you the rest. Jacks told me his father did it on his bare bottom.” While saying that, Mae looked straight at Anne and not her stepfather.
“I think I like that tradition,” he said while sitting down and bending a struggling Anne over his knee. When he lifted her dress and pulled down the underpants, all that was heard in that room was Mae’s laughter and the sound of Lawson’s large hand smacking against Anne’s naked bottom. By the time he got to the last spank, the one to grow on, Birdie had joined Mae’s laughter. Even now, she didn’t believe her husband capable of what Anne had told the judge. She put Anne’s sobs down to what she called being a drama queen. Her love for her husband was stronger than that for the bastard child who had caused her so much embarrassment in court.
Saying Mae and Jean were too old, Lawson insisted on the new tradition for the next five years. Even when he slyly caressed Anne’s bottom, Birdie never complained.
Eight Birthday Wishes
The final entry in the story of Anne's life
Seven decades had passed since Anne escaped from her childhood home after her 18th birthday. Those 70 years, containing both joy and sorrow for this elderly woman, seemed to have passed for her in only a minute.
As she sat there, slowly rocking in the chair her husband had given her on their 25th anniversary, the sight of her great-grandson celebrating his eighth birthday faded. Anne no longer saw the beautiful chocolate cake with words “Happy Birthday, Love” written in white icing on top.
* * *
Her thoughts returned to the first year after she left home to enroll in college. Her father and Doris died in a car accident while Birdie, Lawson, and her two sisters also passed away in following years.
She forced herself to date three classmates, randy young men interested in seducing the shy woman. During that year, she heard complaints on her first and only date with them after she refused their fumbling advances. “Anne, you’ve got an anti-magnetic personality.” Her last date in college followed this rude comment with a sneering, “I get more affection from my sister than a cold fish like you.”
The following year, an especially popular sophomore asked her for a date. While getting dressed for that date, Anne’s roommate gave her some words of advice. “If you want Robbie to ask you out again, you have to stop being so frigid. Letting him have sex with you is the only way to keep a guy like Robbie happy and coming back for more than one date. Trust me on this.”
Later that night in the privacy of his car, Anne gave in to the pressure of his sexual demands. Robert kept telling her how beautiful she was and how much he loved her. While distracting her with kisses to prove his love, he expertly positioned her body on the back seat. Only when the cool night air touched her thighs did she realize he had removed some of her clothes leaving her naked from the waist down. By then it was too late, and she lay there absolutely still as she had learned to be with her stepfather.
Seconds later, Robert got off her, an angry look on his face. “You bitch, you promise and don’t deliver.” With that, he took out his sexual frustration on her for not giving him a lasting erection. Anne’s bruises disappeared in a few days, but she never again dated while in college or for years after.
When she was in her early 40s, Anne met a gentle man named William Charles Chadwick. It took him many patient months, but he finally was able to initiate this damaged woman in the art of loving sex. After that first time together, he held her in his arms while she cried uncontrollably at the joy she had just experienced. Soon after, they married, and their only child, Karen Elizabeth, blessed their lives.
When Karen Elizabeth married in her late 20’s, she produced what Anne considered a miracle, a granddaughter they named Deborah. Both grandparents attempted to spoil the child, but Karen and her husband managed to raise a sweet, caring child.
One day soon after her 25th birthday, Deborah invited her parents and grandparents to come to her apartment. Waiting there, standing beside the beaming woman, stood a tall man, nervously twisting his hands behind his back.
“I’d like you to meet my husband,” announced Deborah, surprising her relatives. Even more surprising were her next words she blurted out in one hurried sentence. “We were married yesterday, and I’m pregnant.” Seven months later, William Charles came into the world. The event was not as joyous as it should have been. Two weeks before, Anne’s husband, her loving companion of many years, died of complications from a recent heart bypass surgery.
* * *
The giggles of little William Charles, named after her beloved departed husband, brought Anne back to the present.
“W C, did you make a wish when you blew out your candles? Mommy can’t cut your cake until you do.” This gentle nudge from his father caused the child to stop giggling and brought smiles to the eight relatives in the room with him.
“I didn’t know what to wish for,” W C said, a puzzled look on his face. “What would all of you want me to have?”
His mother thought for a few seconds. “You could wish for a long life.” W C shook his head at this. A long life meant nothing to an eight year old.
“How about good health?” This came from Sherry, his father’s youngest sister. W C again shook his head, his aunt’s wish for his good health making no sense. The boy hadn’t been sick a day in his life and didn’t understand the concept of illness.
Sherry’s husband joined in next. “I know, W C! How about wishing for a million dollars?” This comment had Millicent, his only daughter, glaring at him. Weeks before, she and her husband had to declare bankruptcy. The mention of money was a sore point with her, and her father knew it.
For the next few minutes, more of the family made suggestions for a wish, ranging from getting a new bike to having his parents take him on a trip to Disneyland. W C shook his head for all seven ideas until only Anne hadn’t made a suggestion.
“Nana, what would you wish for if it was your eighth birthday?” His innocent question brought Anne’s memory back to her sister Mae’s birthday. That was when the emotional pain of her childhood started with physical pain coming later. With an effort, she smiled at her great-grandson before answering, “My child, you have everything you need with people who will love and protect you always.”
She thought for a moment before giving him the eighth suggestion of what his wish might be. Her words had everyone in the room laughing at her idea. “Why not just wish that your mother would hurry up and cut your cake? I’m getting hungry waiting.”
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