19. Mrs. Bishop

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I woke up the next morning dead tired from a restless sleep where I dreamed of formless shadows with bright green eyes and mocking laughter

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I woke up the next morning dead tired from a restless sleep where I dreamed of formless shadows with bright green eyes and mocking laughter.

I had the day off so I followed my mom to Peyton's thinking that I'd surprise him. He hadn't called or texted in a few days, but that wasn't unusual. Sometimes he fell into spells of whatever-you-want-to-call-it and holed up by himself, usually with his books. And sometimes he needed a little help to dig himself out of the hole.

The Bishops owned over two thousand acres of land in Texas, passed down for four generations on Peyton's daddy's side. Their home - well, Estate would probably be a better word for it - was about seven miles out of town, bordering Carson Beaudry's property with a large patch of undeveloped land between them.

It was a gorgeous summer day, the sky bright and blue and completely cloudless. Mom and I were in her barely running Mazda. She drove, her head bobbing along as she lip synced through her cigarette to Lynyrd Skynyrd blaring on the radio. Abruptly, she made a left off the main stretch of road into the winding private road that would lead us to the Bishops' property.

The immaculately landscaped green pastures to either side of the road were dotted with the finest specimens of Texas Longhorns, easily identifiable even from this distance by their majestically curving horns. The Bishops didn't ranch - these cows were strictly for show - pets.

Imagine that.

My mom cursed and shifted gears, dialing down the volume of the radio. "Piece of shit car," she said, "I'm going to have to see about getting it fixed." She paused. "Or maybe getting a new one."

I said nothing. She'd find a way to get it done, and I was probably better off not knowing the details of the hows.

A few sputtering minutes later, the Estate appeared on the horizon. The main house was an enormous, a sprawling limestone construction with floor to ceiling windows. On either side of it were buildings designed in a complimentary fashion, one being the guest house and the other the employee quarters.

My mom was only one of the many house maids. The Bishops employed over twenty people just to take care of their property here, some of whom lived there. Mom would have been better off - financially at least - if she too had lived there. Sometimes I convinced myself that she made the sacrifice on my behalf. Then, I reminded myself that Brandy really wasn't the martyr type. I never asked because I didn't want to give her any ideas.

We parked by the employee quarters and she scrambled out, complaining about being late, as if I were the one who overslept. She borrowed twenty dollars from me and disappeared into the doorway before I even opened my door. Alone, I made my way to the main house, stopping briefly to admire the Firewheel flowers sitting in their plastic pots, waiting to be planted.

A pair of Weimaraners trotted up to me, tails wagging, noses sniffing. "Hello boys," I said as I knelt, accepting their kisses. I scratched them both behind the ear, admiring the way their sleek gunmetal gray coats shimmered in the morning sun.

I glanced around the yard. The dogs' presence meant she had to be near.

I spotted her by one of the patio doors, looking every inch as elegant as her dogs. Despite the broiling heat, Abagail Bishop wore flowing tan colored silk slacks paired with a peach hued sleeveless blouse. A strand of pearls hung around her long, slender neck and she wore a large brimmed gardening hat. She had her back to me, her ear pressed to her phone, shoulders hunched and head bowed low.

She was obviously listening intently to whoever was on the other line, but she must've sensed my presence because she turned around. Her face was taut and grim, but she smiled when she saw me, and held up her hand in greeting.

There was a time when Peyton's mom intimidated the hell out of me. Mrs. Bishop was gentle and kind and soft spoken, everything a woman should be. I think rich people call that "well-bred." The first few times we met, she seemed... puzzled, unable to decide what to make of me, or how to treat me. I couldn't blame her, I was, after all, her housekeeper's daughter with a tattered reputation, spending way too much time with her only son. She'd settled on a cool indifference, keeping a safe distance until that time came when she'd been forced to bridge that gap. But that's a story for another time.

For now, we held each other in mutual regard and respect, bound through the fact that we both wanted what was best for Peyton. And that was more than enough for me.

I waved back.

She held one finger up, signaling for me to wait, so I nodded, plunked my butt down on the gravel and let the dogs have at me. I was giggling and rolling around the dirt with my hands over my face, the dogs going wild and prancing and licking all over me when Mrs. Bishop got off the phone and walked over to me.

"Oh darling, do be careful, they're not puppies anymore," she said with a smile. She called the dogs off with a clap and extended a hand to help me up.

"Hi Mrs. Bishop," I said.

"How have you been Layla? You look wonderful," she said, pressing her cheek to both sides of mine. She smelled gorgeous, an exotic, fresh floral scent that reminded me of, well... her.

I rubbed at a scratch the dogs made on my forearm and lied. "I'm doing just fine Mrs. Bishop."

Always polite, she made a point of making small talk, asking me about my job, school, my plans for college. I gave her the requisite answers and stood smiling politely. Her eyes clouded over for a brief moment and she bit her lower lip in hesitation. I could tell she wanted to talk about something specific, so I waited, but she seemed to change her mind. "Are you here to see Peyton?"

I nodded.

A look of relief spread across her face and a ball of anxiety formed at the pit of my stomach.

"Good, good. I'm so glad you're here. He's out by the lake."

I was about to ask for details on Peyton's mood but her phone rang. She checked the caller ID. "I apologize Layla, I have to take this call. Take one of the carts," she said, "and you're more than welcome to stay for lunch." She smiled but as she fiddled with her phone to accept the call, Her hand trembled. She turned her back on me and answered the phone.

"Dr. Herschel?" said Mrs. Bishop, her voice anxious and alert.

My heart sank at the mention of the doctor's name.

"Yes, thank you for returning my call on such short notice..." Mrs. Bishop's voice faded as she walked toward the house, her dogs trailing at her heels.

The day dimmed around me, the blue of the sky dulling.

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