CH. 15: Pants on Fire

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Much as Gregg Selfridge had a trunk tucked into the back closet of the bedroom, his wife, Vanessa had a trunk of her own under their marital bed. And in that trunk of secrets, much like Gregg, she kept a ring of her own. The one Mac gave her. The silver skull with the roses down the side. The invisibility ring. The ring, that for some reason even a pragmatic woman like Vanessa couldn't fathom, she kept and told no one.

Why did that woman have to come back? With her wild eyes and lithe movements and that oh so infectious energy, she'd nearly spelled ruin for Gregg. And for her. And what if she were to come she you now? she thought, just climbed through that window right there and sauntered over to you? Put her hand on your waist? Her other hand through you hair, grabbing it and pulling your head back? What would you- Stop it!

Vanessa looked down at Mac's ring in her palm. How many times did you slip it on and climb out the window and return before the sun came up, exhausted and sore? How many romantic walks on the beach did you take with Gregg, half absent in the memories and fantasies of Mac Wyatt? How many- Stop!

She closed her hand around the ring and squeezed it tight. She wanted to chuck it across the room and go back to her kids downstairs in front of the TV. Instead, she opened her fist and went back to staring at the ring. Put it in, she thought, just for a second, just to feel it around your finger. She put out her free hand and splayed her fingers. She held the ring between her thumb and forefinger and held the ring over her other middle finger and watched its shadow fall on her flesh. She drew the silver band closer to her fingertip and pulled back. Closer and back. Closer and Mac, Goddamn you. Then, Vanessa-

"You seen your husband around?"

She turned to find Brandon Selfridge standing in the doorway. It was like Deja Vu from the other end. Only days ago, she'd walked in on Gregg ruminating and gave him a talking to about not letting his feelings for Mac Wyatt ruin what they'd worked too hard to build. Now here was Gregg's father snapping her out the very thoughts she'd cautioned her husband against.

Vanessa closed her hand around the ring and said, "He was around earlier. Him and Trisha and Darla. Said he needed to get something and Darla said something about some guy that got fresh with her and Gregg heard about it and you know how he is about guys getting handsy with women. I figured they went out to go tune up on him. I didn't really ask."

"He ain't drinking again, is he?"

"Not if he wants to come home to me he's not."

Brandon nodded.

"Something on your mind, Brandon?"

The elder Selfridge stared at her for a few seconds that felt like a few hours then shook his head as if pushing a thought away. Then, he asked Vanessa, "How you doing, Kiddo?"

"How do you mean?"

"Lot of things going on lately that could disrupt a person's calm. The rollout. The sink holes in the fields-"

"-Mac Wyatt."

"Her," Brandon said flatly. "You think I made a mistake letting her stay."

It might have been a question, it might not have been. She answered anyway, "This truce with the Wyatts is holding strong. No bloodshed. Money in the bank. But, that woman is a stick of dynamite."

"I remember."

"Then why did you agree to it?"

"Because of the very reasons you mentioned. The truce. The peace. The money. I throw her out of Sunshine Beach and it stirs animosity and animosity leads to further animosity and so on until we're back to the bad old business."

"So you knuckle und-"

"-And, if the unstable Mac Wyatt does anything to disrupt the delicate balance we've agreed to, then, we'll, we'd be in our right to demand the Wyatts make good for her mistake. We gain advantage. The truce stands."

She let it his plan sink in then let his real point sink in further. "But, you're worried about Gregg."

Brandon said nothing to this.

"I trust Gregg," she said, "He knows what's at stake. He won't do anything stupid."

"And you?"

Vanessa squeezed harder on Mac's ring. "You don't have to worry about me."

"Anyone I'm not worried about in the family, it's you. I'm just wondering how you're doing."

Vanessa walked over to her father-in-law and pulled in close for a hug. She laid her head on his block chest and he put his thick arms around her. She exhaled and patted his back with one open hand and a fist. She gave it another few seconds then released, but Brandon held her a few seconds more then let her go.

"You're a good kid," Brandon said. "My son is lucky to have you."

"Yes," she agreed. "We both are."

"That's also why I wanted to talk to you."

Vanessa stuffed her hands in the pockets of her jeans and gauged him. "You seem troubled."

Brandon uncharacteristically smiled. "I'm not an easy man to read."

"Not to me."

"No," he said. "Not to you. You see things a lot of people miss. The little things."

"Cause they add up to big things."

"And you know how to listen to your elders. So, I ask you. Do you see it?"

"See what?" Vanessa asked.

"Ah. I thought if anyone would have seen it, it'd be you. That's OK, I'll tell you then. Someone's moving against me. Someone in the family."

Vanessa held her breath for a second and prayed Brandon didn't notice but of course he did. "Why do you think that?"

"You know how this family survived for as long as it has under my steerage? I can tell when people are keeping secrets."

"What secrets?" Vanessa asked and dug her nails into her palm around the ring she wasn't supposed to have given to her by an ex-lover no one can know about.

"I don't know yet," Brandon said. "But, secrets are buzzing around Thrun's Bounty like flies. By Thrun, I can feel it. Just keep those eyes and ears open. You see or hear anything that looks like someone in the family could willingly or unwillingly bring damage upon us and you come to me first. Understood?"

"Yes."

"That includes Gregg. Clear?"

"I understand what you're asking of me."

Brandon nodded. "Good. I'll let you get back to your day dreaming."

"My day-"

He just stared at her for a bit then left her alone in the bedroom of a man she'd been considering cheating on. Again.

"Oh, Gregg," she whispered when she was sure Brandon was well and gone, "please don't see that woman. And please, Thrun, don't let me break my family's heart."

It sounded good. Especially to a woman oblivious to the fact that a lover she and her husband shared had given each of them an identical ring with the promise that "this is just between you and me."

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