Heath paused in front of the closed door; knowing who was on the other side. Even the hand offering comfort on his shoulder failed to encourage him to turn the knob. Casting his eyes to his brother, he drew a deep breath.
“You’re not alone, Heath.”
Opening the door, he noticed the sun streaming through the window, landing on the still form in the bed. On the far side, Matt sat in a slat-backed chair holding his wife’s hand, mumbling, “Everything will be alright. We’ll go away from here. We’re gonna forget about the past.”
“Uncle Matt,” Heath spoke in monotone.
Looking up, “Boy?”
“My name’s Heath.” His monotone lapsed to hatred. “Heath Thomson.”
“Heath Barkley,” Jarrod corrected.
“Heath, forgive me.”
“It’s long past forgiving, Uncle Matt.”
“I suppose it is.” Absently, he continued to pat Martha’s hand. Gazing at the dark-haired man behind his nephew, “We didn’t get properly introduced, you the lawyer?”
“I’m Jarrod Barkley. And yes, I am an attorney, in addition to being Heath’s brother.”
Letting Jarrod take the lead, Heath limped to a chair as far away from his uncle and aunt as the room allowed.
“Mr. Simmons, it has come to our attention that your wife sent a Mr. Phelps to ambush my mother and Heath after their last visit to Strawberry.”
“I didn’t want nothing to do with that.”
“But you knew?”
“I knew she wanted money and felt that Phelps was the man to get it for her and to take her away. Mrs. Barkley had offered us five thousand dollars as compensation for helping Leah take care of the b…Heath.”
“That’s a damn lie!” Sitting rigid in the chair. “You never helped. All you did was help yourself to slave labor, paying my momma barely enough to live on, let alone raise a child.”
“It wasn’t what I wanted…”
“What you wanted?” Heath spat, rising shakily to his feet. “What of all the times you took your belt to my backside?!”
“You were disrespectful!”
“Disrespectful? I was protecting momma!”
“Heath, this isn’t the time or the place,” Jarrod offered.
“Then when is?” Heath turned his anger on his brother. “You don’t know what it was like. Momma did everything they asked, and still it wasn’t good enough!” Looking to his brother for understanding and not seeing it in his eyes, Heath left.
As the door slammed, Matt spoke, “I know we didn’t do right by the boy, nor my sister.”
“Didn’t do right?” Jarrod inquired. Running a hand through his hair, Jarrod steered the conversation back to the reason they had come. “The doctor has informed us that in his professional opinion, your wife is no longer mentally competent.”
“She changed after Phelps. I guess if I were honest, I’d say she changed a long time ago.” Looking to the blue-eyed barrister, “She weren’t always mean. But she took it personally when Leah got pregnant, and refused to abort the baby. We never had no children of our own.”
“And that’s your excuse for the way Heath suffered?” Struggling to keep his composure. “I’m here to let you know that once the doctor has completed the required paperwork, we will, at the least, be filing a suit with the courts to see that Martha Simmons is committed for the rest of her life to an institution for the mentally insane. However; it will be up to the District Attorney to decide if the State prefers to bring charges against both of you being an accessory to attempted murder, blackmail, and attempted murder.”
“I won’t fight you. I’m tired a fighting. Maybe if I’d a stood up to Martha all those years back.”
Jarrod returned to the suite, disappointed in not finding Heath in the common area, nor the bedroom.
“Jarrod!” Nick shouted as he entered. “We’re all set to return...” Shoulders slumped at seeing the despondent expression on his older brother’s face. “Ah, now what happened?”
“Oil and water, Nick. Oil and water.”
Jarrod took the next ten minutes to described what happened at the clinic.
“Damn, I should have gone with you. I’d tear that man limb from limb.”
Jarrod’s own frustration came out, “And what would that accomplish?”
“It’d make me feel better.” Holding up both hands in to indicate he didn’t want to fight based on the critical look received. “So you left it with the old man that they could still face charges?”
“I felt he might be more inclined to go along with what Heath wants.”
“And what of Archer?”
“As I explained before we left home, I will not let Archer persecute our brother.”
“Damn well better not!”
“And if mother were here, she’d be after you about your language.”
“Jarrod, he’s my brother. He’s been through…. I don’t know how he came through his childhood to be the man he is.” Nick’s voice reflected the pride he felt for his brother. Tiredly, Nick fell into the chair, hanging his arms off the arm rests. “Heath in bed?”
“No. I’m not sure where he is.”
“YOU were supposed to stay with him!” Nick jumped to his feet and made three steps before the door opened.
“I needed to take a walk, Nick,” Heath answered as he limped into the suite. “Think you can yell any louder?”
Feeling the need to diffuse the situation, “Yeah, but only when I’m outdoors. You okay?”
Heath nodded and turned to Jarrod, “I’m sorry for my outburst earlier. It’s just that after all the years of torment…. Found a way to make more money than I ever made in the mine or working at the livery. At least that’s what I told Momma. I tried to hide from her the bruises they gave me, Uncle Matt and Aunt Martha. I’d lay awake at night hear her cryin'. I thought, everyone would be nicer to her, she wouldn’t suffer because a me. So I left.”
“Wish you’d come to us, little brother,” Nick answered.
“So do I.”
Link to Chapter 09