The following morning, Susan took extra time to do her make-up, humming to herself.
“Mother, can I…” Stacie started as she opened the bedroom door. She got startled.
“Mum?” Stacie said as she entered the room and closed the door. Susan turned.
“Are…are you going somewhere?”
“Yeah, I have to see and undertaker to take care of the burial ceremony. I also have to meet your father’s family.”
“And why all this make-up?”
“Come on darling, the fact that I’m a fresh widow doesn’t mean I should look like my world has come to an end? I’m still Mrs. Archer, you know?”
“And what are you doing at home at this hour? Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”
“My dad just passed away, mum. Why should I go to school?”
“The fact that your father has passed away won’t make the school reschedule the exam timetable. Go take your bath and get ready for school. Where’s Jason?”
“He’s getting ready to go to work.”
“Good; at least someone still has his head screwed on right,” Susan said, resuming her make-up.
“You are incredible, mum,” Stacie said and left the room.
“Are you serious? How did that happen?” Jessica asked Jason.
“He suffered a heart attack when my mum told him of your pregnancy.”
“What? He….died…because of that?”
“You know dad never approved of us and…”
“I know but why would your mother do that at such a critical stage?”
“That’s the intriguing question everyone wants to find an answer to.”
“I’m so sorry, Jay. It’s my fault; I should have been more careful. I shouldn’t have told your mother about it.”
“It’s okay; what’s done is done. Let’s get out of here.” Jason checked her out of hospital after she was discharged. As they drove to her place, Jessica recalled Susan’s words, “That one is going to cause an instant breakthrough that would have taken me extra months to achieve. Take care dear.”
Jessica gasped and covered her mouth.
“What is it, Jesse?”
“Just promise me you’ll stay away from Jason. If you go against this order, someone will definitely get hurt; someone…very…innocent.”
She took her hand away from her mouth.
“Jesse, are you okay?”
“Yeah I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah I’m good. I think I forgot to do something important at the office but don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”
“Due to the unfortunate passing of our C.E.O., the board of directors has decided that Jason Archer should take charge of all managerial duties for a temporary time till the board decides who is best fit for the position,” one of the top executives announced at a meeting.
“Congrats, Mr. Archer with your new position. Hope you will not disappoint us.”
“I won’t, sir. Thanks for giving me this opportunity. I promise to do my best to move this company forward.”
“Exactly what we want to hear.” They shook hands.
Two weeks later, Gordon Archer was buried. It was a grand ceremony as most dignitaries of the corporate world were present.
“Oh gosh, what a tiring weekend! Can’t wait for my life to go back to normal,” Susan said as she threw herself on the couch.
“Normal? I doubt anything is ever going to turn normal again,” Stacie said. Jason sat down.
“Rose, get us some drinks, will you?” Susan called out.
“I got a call from the family lawyer who said he would meet us next week to discuss…”
“So he’s back now?” Jason asked. Rose served them.
“Yes; apparently, he returned short after your father’s demise. He was even present at the burial.”
“Of course he was,” Stacie muttered and sipped her juice.
“And why didn’t you introduce him to me, mother?” Jason inquired.
“Well, you were quite far away…and what’s the point? He’s going to meet us anyway.”
“I told you that dad wanted me to meet him.”
“And you still can; your meeting with him has no expiry date, does it?”
“You seem to have every little thing figured out, don’t you mum?”
“Of course I do; I am the widow of Gordon Archer and the new head of the family. I must make sure we go through the adjustments smoothly. And please don’t start with your suspicious glances as if I planned everything to work out as they did when in fact, you two killed your father.”
“What?” Jason exclaimed. Stacie choked on the juice she was drinking and spewed it out.
“But it’s true. If it wasn’t for your stubbornness to stay outside, Stacie, you wouldn’t have ended up at the hospital for your dad to get the first heart attack; and if you had kept yourself under your pants, you wouldn’t have impregnated that girl to cause your daddy that fatal heart attack that led to his demise.”
“I can’t believe you mother.”
“Why you thought I’d overlook that fact and take responsibility for your reckless actions?” Susan snapped. Stacie chuckled and shook her head.
“This is ridiculous.”
“What is, Stacie? The fact that you killed your father or because I said it out loud?”
Stacie got up.
“I’ll rather go up to my room and sleep this off and pretend we just didn’t have this conversation,” Stacie said and got up.
“You dare blame us for dad’s death?” Jason asked.
“Am I not saying the truth? I know the truth is hard to bear but it’s okay…no one’s ever going to hear about this.”
“No one? Have you forgotten the ‘poisoning’ diagnosis the doctor made? We all know who really killed dad, mum. So I think it’s Stacie and I who should tell you that no one’s ever going to hear about this.”
“You dare accuse your mother of killing your father, Jason?”
“Didn’t you just boldly blame your very own children of the same thing? I’m yet to follow up on that diagnosis. I remember Stacie talking of the strange taste in daddy’s water. You poisoned it, didn’t you, mum?”
“This is outrageous! How could you cook up such a silly thing, huh?”
“I think we are passed this stage where we pretend we don’t know who is behind all this. I remember the look on the face when you thought I had drunk the water. Why did you do it, mum?”
“You know what; I think I’ll go to bed. It so seems that the many silly movies and TV series are getting to your heads,” she said and got up. She started up the stairs.
“We are not done talking, mum,” Stacie said.
“Well, I am. And you, Jason, I believe it’s time for you to get your own place. Your stay here is long overdue.”
“You are driving me out of my own father’s house?”
“Well, soon as you would know, this house is mine and I won’t have you here rubbing salt into the injury that I feel of losing my husband.” She entered her room and slammed the door.
“Is that how things are going to be now? I’m so moving to campus,” Stacie said.
“No Stacie; if you do, I’d have no other choice than to move out but I don’t want to give her that satisfaction. We’ll stick together, okay?” Stacie nodded. He hugged her.
“But seriously, I’m beginning to doubt the mental health of mother,” Stacie said.
Jason let go of her. “What are you implying? That we should send her to a mental facility and leave her there?”
“I think we should have done that sooner; dad probably might still be with us. She needs to see someone, Jay. Maybe her part in dad’s death is making her go crazy. We need to help her,” Stacie said.
“So she’d would start ranting of me sending her away so I’d have the entire inheritance to myself? No way.”
“So how’s Jessie doing?”
“She’s fine; this is the first time you’ve asked about her. You’re beginning to like her?”
“Not that; it so happens that she’s carrying my nephew or niece. That’s why. So what, you two are going to have a wedding soon?”
“Yeah; but until this drama at home tones down.” Stacie chuckled.
“Then you’d wait your whole life; trust me because the drama isn’t going to tone down anytime soon.” Jason yawned.
“I think I’ll go and take a nap; I’m exhausted.”
Days later, Jason came out of his office to find Susan coming out of the conference room with some executive-looking men.
“Mum? What are you doing here?” Jason asked with surprise, as he approached her.
“Oh yeah, here he is; this is Jason Archer, my son,” Susan said elegantly, introducing him to the men.
“Good day,” he greeted them.
“Yes son; I know you’re surprised to see me here. I came to see some of the shareholders to discuss some crucial matters.”
“Shareholders…and why would you….?”
“Well, we can discuss that later. I need to be somewhere else so keep on working hard and we’ll talk at home, okay?”
“Have a nice day, sirs.” They walked away. Jason watched them as they exited the building. He shook his head and went on his way.
“So how are you holding up, Stacie?” Betty asked her friend.
“Better than I imagined. So far I haven’t done anything stupid, so that’s a good sign, right?”
“Are you and your mother okay now?”
“We barely talk which is better, trust me. Whenever we try to, it turns ugly.”
“How is your brother doing?”
“He’s good…at least he acts like it. He buries himself in his work so he wouldn’t have to feel the loss of our father. Although it didn’t feel like it but my dad was the glue that kept us together. Now that he’s gone…I don’t know but, I can feel the family slowing tearing apart.”
“Don’t say that, Stacie; losing a parent is hard and it takes time to readjust. Your family will be fine.”
“You don’t know my mother, Betty; the last thing she wants is the family to be ‘fine.’ I need a distraction.”
“That loud girl in our class is having a drink-up. You could come along.”
“Are you going?”
“Of course I am; you know I never allow fun to pass me by,” she said with a wink.
They both chuckled.
Jason and Jessica were relaxing on the couch, with Jessica’s head on his chest. Jason was playing with her hair absent-mindedly.
“My mum begins to surprise me every day…”
“What did she do this time?”
“She came over to the office without my knowledge. I saw her when she was leaving.”
“Why would she come there and leave without seeing you?”
“I don’t know; when I asked her, she said she was there to talk to the shareholders.”
“Shareholders? There was a general assembly meeting and you didn’t know about it?”
“There was no general assembly meeting, Jessie; whatever it was, it was behind closed doors and definitely organized by mum herself.”
“Are you surprised?”
“I just wonder what might be going through her mind, you know. She doesn’t act like one who just lost her spouse.”
“That’s probably because she must have been wishing it for a long time.”
“Stacie thinks likewise. We are not the first family to lose the head of the family. So why is our story different?”
“Because Susan Archer is one hell of a kind.” They both chuckled.
“Yeah she is,” he said and kissed her hair.
“So how are both my darlings doing?”
“We are fine,” Jessica replied with a giggle.
“I’m glad; I’m sorry I haven’t paid much attention to you, sweetheart. My mom is such a distraction.”
“I know but you haven’t spoken to it in a while. Why don’t you say hello?”
“Okay….” He got up and knelt in front of Jessica. He gently touched her tummy and placed his ear closer to it.
“Hey buddy, how are you doing in there? I guess you’re fine, right? Your grandmother is such a character to deal with…. I hope you didn’t inherit that trait or else we are going to have serious problems…” Jessica chuckled.
“I love you,” he said and kissed her tummy.
“Why did you call it buddy? Are you expecting it to be a boy?”
“Expecting? I know it will be a boy,” he said confidently.
“You’re going to be disappointed dear.”
“No, you are.” He kissed her tummy again.
“What about we go and check out the sex of the baby?”
“Sure; and let’s get married as soon as possible. I don’t want our child to be born when we are still living apart.”
“Okay…whatever you say.”
“I promise to make us a happy family, Jessie.”
“I promise to do my part too, Jay.” He smiled as he kissed her hands, his eyes not leaving her face. Jessica smiled.
“George, are you at home?”
“No…I’m not at home though; why, what’s up?”
“It’s Stacie; she’s totally wasted and she’s beginning to act funny. Could you please come for her and take her home?”
“What? Why me?”
“That’s because you’re one who wants her as your girlfriend? Please hurry up because something bad happens, okay? Thanks.” Betty hung up. George sighed as he made a daring turn-around back to campus.
Jason entered the house to find his mum busily working on her laptop.
“Good evening mum.”
“Good evening, Jason; from the time you’re arriving, I figure you’re coming from Jessica’s, am I right?”
“How’s she doing?” she asked, her eyes still fixed on the monitor.
“Is Stacie home?”
“I don’t think so…if she were; the house wouldn’t be this peaceful, would it?” She said, raising her head for the first time.
“And have you called to find out where she is?”
“The last time I checked, Stacie was an adult who could take care of herself and would definitely not like me to be checking up on her like a 10 year old, right?”
“But you know that she normally arrives home earlier than this and because her father recently died, she has been pretty distraught; isn’t that a good reason to find out how and where she is right now?”
“Oh I’m sorry but I thought you had assumed that ‘daddy’ role when your father passed away,” Susan said with a tight smile.
“So your love for money has overwhelmed you so much as to neglect your only daughter?”
“And what is that supposed to mean, young man?”
“Why did you have a private meeting with the shareholders when it only supposed to be done at a general assembly?”
“If you care to know, I just wanted to ensure that our shares as Archers are still intact now that your father is no more. You know these big men can be pretty smart especially if you are not that experienced in the corporate world.”
“I don’t think I’m that ignorant, mum to be duped of the family shares besides that would be my responsibility not yours.”
“Well, a simple thank you wouldn’t make you less of a man.” Jason sighed.
“Besides, you could have asked me about it before going into the trouble of holding that meeting.”
“Well, I’d prefer to find that out by myself.”
“What? Are we having trust issues here, mum?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t trust you, Jason.”
“But…” They heard a car pull up in the driveway.
“Did Stacie go out with a car this morning?”
“No, she didn’t.”
“At least you know that,” he muttered as he strode towards the door. He opened it and stepped outside. A young man was helping Stacie get out of the car. They walked towards him.
“Good evening…. I’m… I’m….George….a friend of Stacie.”
“And why are you now bringing her home?” Stacie staggered.
“What….is she drunk?”
“It seems she was at a drink-up on campus and she took too many a drink.”
“And you watched her?”
“No; I wasn’t there. Her friend Betty, called me to bring her home since she was…getting out of hand.”
“Thanks buddy,” Jason said as he stretched his hand. George took it and shook it.
“No problem; I’m George by the way.”
“I’m really grateful, George.”
“Okay, I’ll be on my way now. I’ll call you tomorrow, Stacie.” Stacie nodded as she leaned on her brother. Jason watched George walk towards his car. He got inside and drove off.
“Are you okay?”
“I know dad is going to be very angry with me…,” she said sloppily. Jason shook his head and took her inside.
“Who was that out…. Oh my God, what happened to her?” Susan asked in an alarmed tone when she saw Stacie. She got up.
“She got wasted at a drink-up on campus.”
“And the jerk decided to just drop her at the door, huh? After getting her this wasted….who knows what he might have done to her…”
“That ‘jerk’ only picked her up and brought her home as a good friend should.”
“Are you out of your mind, huh? Why would you get yourself this wasted?” Susan scolded Stacie.
“Oh please stop it, mum! Stop acting like you care. I could die in a ditch all alone for all you care and you Jason stop acting like my daddy because we all know he’s gone. He’s the only one who really cared,” Stacie said and started towards the stairs. Both mother and son stared at her dumbfounded. Stacie stuttered. Jason subconsciously rushed to her aid.
“I’m fine; I know the way to my room, thanks,” Stacie snapped. Jason stepped back. Stacie ascended the stairs and entered the room. They both sighed in relief when she closed her bedroom door.
“I guess this is affecting her than she admits,” Susan said.
“Of course it is; because you’re not being there for her, mother. It is at such a time that you should get closer to her so she doesn’t feel the dad’s absence so much but now is the time that you deem it best to check up on family shares,” Jason said.
“Are you teaching me how to be a good mother?” Susan asked.
“No; I’m just appealing to you to be there for my one and only sister,” Jason said and started the stairs. Susan watched him ascend. She shook her head and went back to her seat. She sipped her drink and continued her work on the laptop.
Thanks for meeting me today. Hope I can count on you.
She clicked on ‘send.’ She rubbed her palms together and smiled. She looked up at Jason’s door with a triumphant gaze.