Chapter 8: Know Now What We Knew Then
The silence in the car was deafening. Buck Daniels and Erika Andress both sat in the car, not speaking to each other. Buck stayed silent from not knowing what to say and Erika because she didn’t know how to say what she was thinking.
Finally, Erika piped up first. “Where’d Georgie and Morty go?”
“They’re out with some friends,” her pseudo-uncle said. “I hope those two enjoy their time back.”
Erika scratched the back of her head before finding something to begin the conversation in earnest. “Those were people from the Times and the Post back there.”
Buck sighed. “Yes. Yes there were. I was hoping they wouldn’t show up fer a little while longer, but I suppose that no plan truly survives a brush with reality.”
The seventeen year old girl continued her line of questioning. “Why were they there?”
Buck stopped the car. Erika looked around confused for a moment before discovering that they’d stopped in front of Buck’s house. “Come inside,” he said, “and I’ll try to expand on our earliah conversations.”
After going inside, Erika sat down at the table, taking slow and deep breaths through her nose. How much was Buck going to tell her? And more importantly, would he finally answer her questions or just ignore the elephant in the room?
It was some time before Mr. Daniels finally returned, with two glasses of orange juice in his hands. “I forgot to go to the grocery store today,” he remarked. “So you’ll just have to do without this time.” Buck sat down at the table, setting the beverages down and got down to brass tacks. “What’d ya wanna know?”
Erika’s answer was immediate. “Everything.”
“Can’t do that, Erika.” Erika grit her teeth as Buck closed his eyes. “Try being more specific.”
She thought for a moment before deciding on her approach. “Why were the reporters there?”
Buck looked at his drink before beginning his response. “They were there for you. Obvious, I know. They wanted your opinion about the... situation involvin’ what yer father left you in his will.”
“I remember you talking about that,” Erika commented. “But why do you keep talking about a gag order?”
“Well,” Buck said after taking a long swig of juice, “that’s a bit of a tale. I’ll have to start from the beginning.”
He coughed before finally starting. “Your father and I were... very close, as I’m sure I’ve told you. Hell, it’s about time I explained that. Remember that picture you carry around with you- that one with yer parents?”
Erika plucked it out of her pocket- the picture hadn’t changed an iota from the last time she’d looked at it, but it still helped things make sense. “Go on. How’d you get so close to my father?”
Buck stayed silent, his fingers anxiously tapping the table. “Alright, I can tell you that. You see... your father and I worked together. Your father and a-” he coughed- “a co-worker found out that someone was ripping him off of a lot of money on some very lucrative material. He hired me to help him with the case. Long story short, we won. And it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“Eventually, he met anotha friend of mine- the woman who’d end up being your real mother. She was strong, confident, and a bit of a heartbreaker before she met your father. They fell in love, got married, and she got pregnant with you. Then... well... we both know what happened to your dear mother.”
Erika nodded. “I wish I could’ve met her. You make her sound like a hell of a woman.”
“Yessiree bob, she was,” Buck chuckled, “helluva woman. But life isn’t fair sometimes. I guess it just wasn’t part o’ the Big Guy Upstairs’s plan, eh?” He became serious again. “Your father was so depressed. His world, his fairy tale ending- smashed to pieces. He quit his job, he stopped going out of the house... the only thing that kept him going was you.”
There was a long silence as Erika let it sink in. The truth was finally beginning to come out. “What happened next?”
Buck gulped down another mouthful of OJ. “A few yeas passed, and your father met Ally. Your stepmother.” He sighed, remarking, “I never liked her, told your father that she was a horrible woman, but he didn’t care. He just wanted a normal life. He wanted you to have a mother again.”
Erika quietly looked at the picture of her parents again. “Did he love Miss Andress?”
“Honestly? I couldn’t answer that question. Not because I can’t say, but because I honestly don’t know.” Buck then added, “But if he did love that woman, he could never have loved her the same way he loved your real mother.”
“Alright,” Erika said. “I think I understand that. But where’s the gag order come in?”
“Well,” Buck explained, “after your father remarried, the world left him alone. He changed his name to your stepmother’s and lived off the money he’d made. Which was a great deal, mind you- much greater than the inheritance that Allison Andress had received when her parents kicked the bucket.”
“After your father died, there was a big brouhaha in the press, mostly over the monay. But there was another fight going on over who received custody of you. Much quieter because, well... I lost. Badly. I did so horribly that it was the last case I took for years.”
Erika stared at Buck. “Wait, you wanted custody over me?”
The lawyer nodded his head. “Erika, we both know what kind of a woman your mother is. And I thought I had a genuine claim because your father made me your godfather.”
There was a long pause. Finally, one of the two people at the table spoke. “G-godfather?”
Buck Daniels nodded. “Before you were born, your father took me aside and said, ‘Buck, I want you to give me your word as a man to watch over my kid, no matter what happens.’ When I asked him to speak it in simpler terms, he asked me to be your godfather and to raise you in case something happened to your parents. Unfortunately,” Buck grunted, “it seems that neither of us counted on him ever remarrying. Nor did I count on a stepmother having priority over a godfather- a massive blunder on my part.”
Things finally started to fall into place for Erika. Why Buck had been so eager to be kind to her, why he constantly argued with her stepmother, why he kept asking her to call him ‘Uncle’... Drink. She needed to gulp down some more of her drink.
“I know this is a bit hard to stomach,” Buck finally stated as he rose from his seat, “but I swear to you, it’s all true.”
Erika took a long and deep breath. “Thanks for telling me, Uncle Buck.” She stood up and hugged him like never before. “Thank you so much.”
Buck Daniels hugged back, a smile on his face. “It’s the least I could do for ya. It’s the very least I could do.” He looked at his watch before releasing his godchild. “It’s late. Ya need to get home.”
The two were about to walk out the door when a familiar ringing noise rang out. The red phone was ringing. “Uncle Buck, one more question- what’s the deal with that phone? You said you’d explain it when you explained the picture.”
Buck gulped as he remembered that promise. “I should’a known that would bite me in the butt. I’ll say this- it’s the secret to my success during the last few yeas as a defense attorney.”
“But you said you’d explain! That’s a cop-out!”
The lawyer calmly looked Erika in the eye and smiled. “Erika... do you believe in magic?”
Erika raised an eyebrow at the sudden change of subject. “Buck, what are you-”
“Do you believe in magic?” He seemed very serious about such a trivial question.
“No. I mean, it’s a great coincidence that you knew Dad and were gonna look out for me, but I just think it’s all stuff for little kids.”
Buck subtly bit his lower lip. “Alright then. Goodnight, Erika.” Once she walked out the door, he silently chuckled to himself as he went for the phone. “I promise, I’ll show you some real magic.”
As Erika closed the door to her house behind her, she just wanted to go to bed. The house was almost completely dark, and it seemed that she would get home from a show without any trouble, just like last night-
Op, scratch that. A lamp flickered on in the next room, revealing Allison Andress sitting calmly in a chair. “Erika, take a seat.”
As she did, she noticed her stepmother sniffing the air, searching for the slightest trace of alcohol. Erika knew the game she was playing- Allison never acknowledged that Erika was out at a show, acting instead that she thought Erika was getting drunk, high, or selling her body for money.
“Where have you been, Erika?” It appeared that tonight would be no different.
“I-I was doing a show for school.” It was better to be straightforward tonight, Erika figured.
“I didn’t give you permission to do a show.”
Erika knew that was a blatant lie- she’d had her stepmother sign a permission slip granting her the right to audition for the entire year. “Yes you did.”
Calling Allison’s bluff, in hindsight, may not have been her best option. “Are you talking back to me? What gives you the right, you little runt?”
It was taking everything that Erika had not to fire back with what she’d learnt from Buck. But no, that could get them both in trouble. “B-Because I have the right to hang out with my friends. Jade and Fiona do it all the time, and they get drunk and stuff! I don’t even touch the stuff!”
Miss Andress stood up out of indignation. “What did you accuse my daughters of doing?”
And Erika stayed perfectly still, her newfound willpower finding an ax to grind against Allison’s draconian rule. “You heard what I said.”
For the first time that Erika could remember, Allison Andress was at a loss for things to say. “I... You...” She was shaking with anger, but she couldn’t make the words.
Erika turned around calmly, savoring what was possibly the first true ‘victory’ she’d scored against her stepmother. “I’m going to bed.”
As her stepdaughter stepped out of the room, Allison finally found her voice. “You are grounded from Homecoming, young lady! I’m not giving you any money for tickets!”
But her punishment fell on deaf ears. Erika walked up the stairs, thankful that she had a stash of money hidden away in her room- it wasn’t a large amount she had squirreled away, but it was enough for a ticket. But the dress... well, the theatre department had enough spares, and they looked pretty good. And as for dealing with her mother’s wrath, well, she’d find a way. She seemed to be finding ways to stand up to things that seemed immovable just weeks before.
Lunchtime the next day was a bit different than usual for Erika- it was starting to get a bit too cold to eat outside for most people’s taste. So now most people were packed in the lunch room at those long rectangular tables. She was sitting with Kat and Mary along with Julia and a few Theatre ‘jocks’, as they liked to call themselves.
Erika wasn’t really paying attention to the conversations around her. Her mind was awhirl in thought, partly because of what had transpired the previous night, but mostly because she wanted to see Kelly. She knew it would be nearly impossible to get ahold of her now- they were pretty much in two different worlds.
Kat nudged Erika, trying to get her attention. “Hey, you there?”
That promptly brought Erika back to reality. “Mm? Yeah, I’m here. Just thinkin’, I guess.”
“Well,” Kat grinned, “start thinking about Homecoming! There’s so much to plan for- dinner, the dress, the limo...” Her grin turned wicked as she added, “...the date...”
Erika’s face became flushed at the words. “I’m gonna need some help on the dress- Mom cut me off for performing.”
Mary’s eye twitched. “What’s that woman’s problem, anyway? It’s not like you’re breaking the law by acting.”
“Eh, to hell with the witch,” Julia snorted. “If I had a bit more notice and the materials, I could make this great thing I’ve been sketching out.”
Erika deadpanned, “You’re just calling her that because she failed you on today’s test.”
“Well, EXCUSE ME for not putting the date at the top of the freaking paper. No warning, no precedent, just BAM! I would’ve aced it this time, I had a freaking tutor!”
Mary nodded. “Either way, it’s about time for you to get a ticket for Homecoming. Kat and I already got ours, and Julia’s planning to pay for hers and her date’s.”
“It’s so cute!” Kat was grinning ear from ear. “You know that cute little bookworm that Julia’s been hanging out with the past few weeks, the one who’s been tutoring her? Well she’s FINALLY going-”
“Do we really need to go into my dating profile? Especially when there’s a more interesting example right across the table?” Julia was a little cross, but there was no denying that she was blushing.
“Speaking of which-” Kat turned to tease Erika again, only to find that she had gotten up from the table. “Hm. You think she’s finally taking her love life into her own hands?”
“One can only hope,” Mary said. “One can only hope.”
“It’s only fair that we push her though,” Kat remarked. “She helped us, so we’ve gotta help her.”
Julia sighed. “My God, you two love playing Cupid.”
“We know,” Mary admitted. “But it’s not like you complained that much when you started looking at Tina. Go and ask her already!”
A grunt came from Julia’s throat before she got up from the table. “I’ve gotta be going now.”
Halfway across the room, Erika was next in line. The desk was covered with a black cloth, with a colorful sign that read ‘Senior Homecoming Tickets’ hanging in front of the table. Underneath the large writing was some fine print that read, ‘Maximum one ticket per student. Non-students must be accompanied by student when purchasing ticket.’
She stepped forward, to be greeted by a familiar face. “Hey, long time no see!” Meredith smiled at her, her hair as pink as ever. “Pretty obvious why you’re here, eh?”
Erika smiled nervously. “Yeah.” She dug the money out of her pocket and handed it over. “This should cover it.”
Meredith quickly counted the bills, sorted them into the nearby cash box, and ripped a red ticket off the ticket roll. “Here you go.” She looked at Erika, writing her name on the record. She asked, “So... who’re you going with?”
She shrugged. “At the moment, Kat and Mary. Gonna probably go as a group.”
“Actually, she’s not going at all.”
Erika and Meredith both turned to find Jade standing a foot away, smirking. She grabbed the ticket from Meredith’s hands, commenting with a sneer, “Mom didn’t give you any money for a ticket.”
“I’ve been saving up money,” Erika replied. “I paid for that, please give it back.”
Jade smirked. “I don’t think so. If Mom didn’t give you any money, then you aren’t buying a ticket. And that means,” she added, “that you’re not going to Homecoming.”
With that, she ripped Erika’s ticket in half. Erika looked on in disbelief as Jade turned to Meredith and said, “You know the rules. Don’t sell her another one.”
A little bit after the incident, Meredith saw Erika telling the people she’d been eating with what happened. Mary and Julia had to physically restrain Kat while Erika made a break for the bathroom.
Meredith ended up nearly restraining Kelly as well during lunch the next day. “Calm down. There’s nothing we can do at this point.”
“Like HELL there isn’t,” Kelly grunted as she hid back in her tree- she wasn’t going to eat inside just yet. “That family of hers is ruining her senior year. And she can’t go to Homecoming either!” She scarfed down her snickerdoodle cookie, adding, “I don’t understand how she deals with it.”
“I don’t understand how YOU’RE going to deal with it,” Meredith said. “With Erika out of the picture, you’re going to have a pretty rough go of it yourself saying ‘no’ to everyone.”
Kelly didn’t seem to hear that part. “I mean, how can she stand those two? They’re like a twisted version of Tweedledee and Tweedledum.”
She snapped out of her tirade against the two she’d fought against for so long. “What?”
“Back to reality, here. Lunch is over. And we’ve got people waiting for us.” They both looked at the entrance to the school- there were a gaggle of girls standing there, conversing. “Twenty-two of them. I already counted.”
Kelly cursed as she climbed out of the tree. “Dang, that many? There were only four of them yesterday.”
“Yeah, but since you never asked anyone,” Meredith stated, “word got around that you’re still available. And it’s like the old saying, ‘Never hurts to ask.’”
The girls swarmed the two as they reentered the school, with Meredith being pushed away by the rabid throng of fangirls. Papers flew out of her backpack as she was thrown out of the crowd. “My draft!” Meredith frantically began grabbing at the flying pieces of her novel-in-the-making.
Meanwhile, Kelly felt like she was going to suffocate, though she wasn’t sure if it’d be from the attention or the closely-knit crowd. So many people were pulling her in almost every direction, the sensation of being so close to so many people was giving her the feeling she was in a sauna- minus the relaxing feeling.
“Excuse me ladies!” A familiar voice rang cut a knife through the crowd, causing all of the ‘suitors’ to stop their antics. Kelly recognized the cultured tone and the figure of Mrs. Thatcher, Head of the Theatre Department. She was carrying a stack of scripts in one hand and a Thermos in the other.
“If you’d be all be so kind, I’d like to see Miss Kingsley in my office.”
A couple of the girls groaned in disappointment, dispersing to allow Kelly some air. “Alright, please follow me.”
Kelly quickly maneuvered her way out of the group and followed the teacher, muttering a quick farewell as she escaped her fangirls for the day. “...would be so much easier if these idiots would stop STANDING on my work...”
Once they were well out of earshot, Kelly asked Mrs. Thatcher, “Am I in trouble?”
“No,” Thatcher grinned, “I just thought you could use a little help getting out of that mess.” Kelly chuckled a little bit at that. “On a more serious note, I actually do need to have a word with you. In private.” She took out a set of keys out of her pocket- she never seemed to carry a purse- and unlocked the doors to the theatre.
Kelly knew this part of the school, but not the door immediately to the left that Mrs. Thatcher also unlocked. “This is my office,” Thatcher said. “Make yourself comfortable.”
Once she sat down, Kelly quickly realized that Mrs. Thatcher’s ‘office’ was fairly large. In fact, it doubled as her classroom for the Theatre students. The walls were decorated with posters of various shows- some from Broadway, others advertising shows the school had done in recent years. The desk was surprisingly neat, the only things on it being a phone, a calendar, a nameplate labeled ‘T. Thatcher’, and a picture frame of Mrs. Thatcher and a lanky man in wedding clothes.
“I’m sure you’ve had a pleasant day?” Kelly blinked as Terry Thatcher set the scripts down beside her desk and sat in her chair. “Relax- it’s not as if I’m grilling you for a quiz.”
Kelly sighed as she pulled a chair out from one of the tables and sat. “It’s been... fine. I guess.”
Mrs. Thatcher smiled as she took out a sandwich and unscrewed the top of her Thermos- the fresh smell of tea escaped from the opened container.
Kelly laughed for a second. “I half expected you to break out some scones.”
The teacher laughed as well. “Surprise!” She took a sip of her tea before stating, “Shockingly enough, not every English gal likes scones or crumpets with her tea- or may not even like tea at all. But that’s neither here nor there, now is it?”
Kelly nodded. “I guess not. You had something to tell me?”
“Yes.” Mrs. Thatcher appeared a little nervous, but continued nonetheless. “I have a bit of a favor to ask of you...”
She could’ve been having fun with her friends today, but Erika was sitting on her bed, reading a manga. She sighed as she looked at the clock again. It was still seven thirty. Erika put the Japanese book down and massaged her temples. She was so freaking bored! The sun hadn’t even set, and she was at her house, reading MANGA!!!
“Ugh...” Erika was fairly angry, more so than she could recall being for years. The fact that there was a tapping noise wasn’t helping things. ‘Wait... just where is that coming from?’ Nothing from the door, though it would more likely come in the form of a door being slammed against the wall-
“GAH!” Erika nearly screamed as she saw a familiar blonde at her window, tapping the glass. After opening the window, she stared at Kelly, thunderstruck, and asked, “Are you mad?”
“Just a bit,” Kelly grinned as she climbed through the window, backpack in tow, “but you’ve probably gone nuts from dealing with the Terrible Twosome.”
Erika chuckled slightly at her joke. “It’s just gone from the usual tricks to flat out insanity. I’ve been grounded for a month for ‘stealing money’ from my stepmom.”
Kelly looked amazed at that. “I heard that was your money!”
“It was. I’d been saving it for something like this. And now, I’m freaking grounded.” Erika sighed bitterly while Kelly got angry.
“That’s bullshit! It’s your money; you have the right to spend it how you want!” Erika looked at her as if she was going crazy. “And she’s freaking grounded you for Homecoming! I swear, they’ve killed off everything for you!”
“Yeah... being grounded for my birthday really really bites. But it’s not as if I ever get to do anything-”
“Wait.” Kelly looked at Erika, confused at that tidbit of information. “What was that?”
“Well,” Erika remarked, “Uncle Buck and the guys are really the only ones who celebrate it.”
“No no no! You said your birthday was coming up! AND that you were grounded for it!”
Erika gulped, playing with some strands of her hair. “Y-yea. My birthday is the same day as Homecoming.”
Kelly stared at her for a second, before saying, “I have to get you something.”
“No, really, it’s not necessary-”
“But it is!” Kelly began talking full speed, not allowing Erika to interrupt. “I mean, you’ve never gotten to do so much and it’s, it’s criminal! To think that they’d just lock away a beautiful girl like yo-” She stumbled for a second, blushing at her slip of the tongue. “A girl like you into her room on her birthday AND for Homecoming... it’s horrible.”
Erika’s face was a deep blush as well, but nodded at the last part. “I-I guess.”
An idea sprang into Kelly’s head as she started to scrounge through her backpack. “Hold on, I got something good for you in here somewhere...” Erika was about to tell her that she didn’t need too, but Kelly’d already found it by that point, anyway.
“What is it?”
Kelly grinned as she rested her hand on the gray object she’d pulled out. “This is a portable DVD player, with one movie inside it. You,” she continued, pulling out some headphones, “are gonna finally get with the times and watch some movies.”
“But then I’ll be even deeper in the dog house.”
“Not if you keep the volume low,” Kelly grinned. “Any way, I’d love to stay, but I’m pretty sure that you don’t wanna be caught with me in your room in case someone decides to check in.” When she waited for a response, she found Erika staring at her, followed by a crushing bear hug.
That hug didn’t leave Kelly’s mind until she’d climbed back down the ladder and had driven halfway back to her house. ‘Alright,’ she finally thought to herself. ‘She’s grounded. I’ll tell Thatcher tomorrow, and then I have to figure out what to do next.’