Sunset at The Gables had a breathtaking effect, even on Kermit Griffin. Winding his car up the twisted drive, he felt struck by the sheer beauty of the country manor. His visits had been rare but pleasant, except for that one odd incident months ago. This home welcomed him with an odd, ghostly charm. He always knew Marilyn had excellent taste, but it had taken on a more formal air since her husband's death. The new home she'd selected seemed beautiful and gracious but with a hint of sadness. Like Marilyn.
Normally a two-hour drive, this particular trip had taken much longer. Important errands intervened, but now he was here. Here to focus on his only living family...if that were possible. Easing the Corvair to a stop beside the emerald green lawn surrounding the stone manor, and staring at the house through the frame of his windshield, Kermit drew in a shaky breath. There were so many miles between his world and his sister's; just as there had been between his and David's.
David. Ripping the keys from the ignition and jamming them into his pocket, he tried to force the choking memories from his mind. That voice, strong and sure. The crooked grin wriggling across his young face the last time they were together. <"Be back in a month, Kermit. Tops! ">
With a determined shake, the man rattled the vision into mist. He was here for Marilyn. Unfolding from the sports car, he tried to paste a pleasant expression over weary features. After all, he did have good news. She needed good news.
His presence would be useful...for someone.
After a five-minute wait attached to the doorbell, Kermit gave up good manners and used his own key. Creaking open the heavy oak door, he shouted through the echoing emptiness, "Marilyn??!"
The still-eerie silence embraced him in welcome as he stepped inside. "Marilyn!"
No pre-teen chatter bounced down the stairs from Mitch and there was no sullen Jason draped over the sofa. On a Friday afternoon after three o'clock, there should be chaos -- at minimum -- in this family home. Instead, there was silence.
Walking casually through the large rooms, he searched for his family. The den. The dining room. Empty. He moved faster. The kitchen. The study. Empty.
Senses tense and scanning, he moved toward the part of the house he had hoped to avoid. Memories of those hands from a nightmare and accusing whispers licking his mind, labeling him killer. <"Kill us if you can.">
Staring down the plain hall that led to the basement, he tried not to see. Tried not to feel the indictment of the other world claiming him. They knew him. <"Blood on your hands.">
David knew it, too.
He heard the voice of his brother once again. Strong and young and sure. Don't do this, bro. David had known his instinct to kill and had stopped him. Caine had banished the disembodied hands long ago and had helped him hear his brother's voice once again in the eye of a storm. But with the vengeance gone...what was left?
Memories. Memories of a younger brother who had worshipped him, then hated him, then understood him. The understanding time cut abruptly short by a needle.
Transfixed by the haze of failure and loss, Kermit barely heard the moan slipping through the air from the basement. It fastened itself to his peripheral senses, snapping the sorrow back and yanking the mercenary into the present.
The sound was growing in intensity as he ran down the hall past shadows of demons now banished. Pounding down the stairs, gun drawn reflexively, he could hear the moans punctuated with gasps of pain. The sound of a feminine voice, in pain, groaning without words to call for help blinded him to all else. The older brother tore down the steep basement stairs in a desperate search for his pregnant sister.
Skipping stairs, the frantic man landed with a sharp thump on the hard concrete floor. The moaning echoed through the large, L-shaped room.
"MARILYN!! Tell me where you are!!" Kermit stepped around the room carefully seeking out the sound, not wanting to miss her in case Marilyn had collapsed in one of the many darkened corners of the basement. The room was still crammed to overflowing with boxes and old furniture that could hide her.
Plunging around a corner, he called again, his voice nearly shaking with dread.
"WHAT?!" Marilyn nearly ran crashing into her now-sweating older brother as he rounded the corner.
Grabbing her by the shoulders to keep them both from losing balance, he said, "My God! What's wrong?! I heard you moaning down here and-" He could still hear it as his sister's expression bled rapidly from surprise to annoyance to amusement.
Looking over her shoulder, Kermit spied the television, resplendent with a sweating couple providing typical daytime fodder over the airways.
Marilyn dissolved into hysterical laughter. "Oh, brother! You thought I was doing all that?" Holding her large stomach as she giggled, the woman hugged her would-be savior with the other. "I'm sorry. I've been dipping into the gutter for my daily dose of trash."
Trying to force his heart to stop thundering, Kermit holstered his weapon and returned her embrace with embarrassed relief. "What are you doing down here by yourself? Where are the kids?"
Taking his hand and leading him to the small sofa before the television set, Marilyn explained, "Well, the kids are at Rob's parents for the weekend and I'm down here doing laundry." Holding her brother's hand to help ease herself down onto the cushions, she said, "It's too hard to keep going up and down, so I just spend one afternoon a week down here with the appliances watching PBS in my newly adapted private space."
Peering playfully over his shades, he teased, "PBS does Peyton Place?"
Grabbing the remote to destroy the writhing soap opera couple on the screen, she replied, "Woman can not live by Shakespeare alone. I have to get my thrills where I can."
"I can see that," he said, his voice returning to a more level tone. Sinking down on the couch beside his sister, he looked around the cozy corner of the once-desolate basement.
Now there was the sofa, a thick rug covering the floor, a small coffee table to hold Marilyn's magazines and snacks, and the now-silent television off to the side. Picking up an economy-sized bag of Reese's Pieces, he helped himself and teased, "You into health foods these days?"
Playfully jerking the bag away, Marilyn snapped, "Give me those!"
"Never get between a woman and her chocolate." Kermit relinquished the bag and smiled as his prim and proper sister dug into the candy without regard to dainty behavior. "If you're that hungry, we can go out to dinner."
Twisting a frown at her older brother, Marilyn swallowed and asked, "Does Karen Simms like chocolate?" She grinned, remembering those same knitted eyebrows when she'd babbled sing-song taunts at his teenage dates. Just as decades ago, the face gave away nothing to the world but all to the younger sister who knew every quirk. To the folded arms and continued silence, she slumped back into the pillows and added, "Okay, you don't have to answer. I'm not really the best qualified person to discuss your love life with these days. Besides, that's not what I want to know anyway. How are you?"
"I know how I should feel. Resolved. Absolved, maybe." Rubbing his eyes beneath shields of green, he growled, demonstrating his personal turmoil. "I don't feel those things. I'm not ready to examine how I feel."
Marilyn watched the struggle play across Kermit's hardened features. Feeling had never been a problem for her older brother. Marilyn knew him to feel with the sensitivity of raw nerves -- deeply. Others saw him as detached, icily insensitive. They were wrong. She had seen him nearly burn himself alive in the depth of feeling he carried. Smiling softly at his obvious pain, she offered the option of silence to him. "When you're ready, you know I'm here for you."
Kermit smiled and silently contemplated his sister. It was just like her not to pry, not forcing him into the Florida discussion until he was ready. Grateful for the chance to focus on her instead, Kermit tugged her over to lean under his arm. "How are you?"
For a few moments, Kermit allowed himself to enjoy the closeness, feeling the protective power of embracing his little sister. Quietly, she whispered into his chest, "I assume that since you're not in jail, Darren's still in one piece." The arm around her tensed at the mention of her soon-to-be ex-husband's name.
Kermit couldn't help but fume at the thought of the man. Darren Johns had been like salt in a wound from the first moment the ex-mercenary had laid eyes on him. Rob Manse, Marilyn's first husband had been different. Fresh and bright just like Marilyn had been at the time. A natural pair. Kermit had reluctantly allowed himself to develop affection for his brother-in-law. Rob could be trusted. Not so with his sequel.
"We had a chat."
Huffing a small laugh, Marilyn's expression betrayed genuine happiness as Kermit watched visions of that 'chat' dance through her eyes. "Whatever you said made quite an impression. Darren's attorney called. No claims on the property. All he wants is what he came in with."
Darren had caved, all right. Kermit Griffin had been ripe for such a visitation. <"Oh, Darren, nice to see you. Mind if I pull this gun out of my back? It's rather uncomfortable." > Dr. Johns had stood in the midst of his plush ophthalmology practice and nearly soiled his lab coat. A sweet victory.
Stroking his sister's hair, he addressed the important issue. "What about the baby?"
With a heavy sigh, Marilyn rested her hand on her stomach, sadness evident in her gesture. "Twelve hundred per month support and he is relinquishing his parental rights. No visitation. No father."
"Good." Now, she could be rid of him permanently.
"No, Kermit. Not good!" Marilyn looked up at him with amazement. "How is it good for a child to think his father doesn't want him? How do I explain that mess?"
He'd thought she would be relieved. Darren had even volunteered to sever ties with Marilyn's child. <"I never wanted a baby anyway!" > Even in the midst of his quaking terror, the coward had vomited his true feelings. Kermit hadn't even wanted to pound him for that, being that they would be rid of the greedy little opportunist.
"Marilyn, all these children need is their mother. You've got all the strength and love they need." Reaching down to pat the hand resting on her stomach, he whispered, "Especially this one."
"Jason's in trouble." The statement was delivered without panic but with the thick layers of worry only a parent could feel. Closing her eyes, she took a moment to swallow the threatening crack in her voice. "He was already suffering from losing Rob, then I moved some other man into his home to make him even more miserable."
"What kind of trouble?" Kermit asked, gently turning Marilyn to face him. Jason was naturally a moody individual, the silent brooding type from the beginning. Kermit had been trying to connect with the angry young man but with little success. Distance made that difficult. Having spent the last few weeks tracking Larson, he'd given precious little attention to anything else.
"He hasn't done anything that I know of, Kermit. But it's coming. I can feel it." With an awkward wobble, Marilyn pushed herself up from the sofa and began an idle straightening of the magazines on her coffee table. "All he wants to do is hide in his room with the stereo up full blast. He's just been...been...so unhappy."
The buzzer from the dryer provided the tearful mother an opportunity to escape for a moment. Kermit watched her disappear around the corner, her words echoing behind her.
There had been another unhappy boy in their lives years ago. Another boy drowning in pain waiting for a lifeline...