Title: "A Sliver of Topaz"
Pairing: Brennan's Family Story. A family story, a love story.
Rating: T--although this chapter is probably K+
Summary: This is a sneak peak into a much longer fic which I will be expanding on like nobody's business this summer... Which begins in two weeks! I will be updating before then, though. Don't worry. =)
I kicked the blankets on the floor
Turned my pillow upside down
I never never did before
'cause I was tossin' and turnin'
Turnin' and tossin'
a-tossin' and turnin' all night
She moved her hips to the beat as it blasted from the family radio. Manicured nails fluffed the bouffant until it was tall enough to earn a halo of cloud cover. Another dusting of hair spray. A green swing coat brushed against silk leggings as she leaned toward the mirror, adding another layer of lipstick.
"Tossin' and turnin' all night," she whisper-sang with the refrain. Her eyes were pulled from the gold-brushed en vogue mirror at the sight of movement outside of her bedroom door. She sighed heavily, annoyed, and set the lipstick on the vanity. "Ruth! Ruthie!"
The girl stopped her dancing and brushed back chestnut waves. "Yeah, mama?"
"What did I tell you, girl? Go get dressed. I'm not gonna tell you again. I swear on everything holy."
The girl sighed and walked back to her bedroom, shoulders hunched.
Her mother shook her head and walked back to the vanity where the bouffant was decked with a pearl comb. She opened her jewelry box and thumbed through the little pile of cheap costume jewelry until she found it.
A silver ring, size 6 with a sliver of topaz that captured the moonlight.
She slid it on her finger.
What Karen Stanley knew about that ring could hardly fill a paragraph. It had been handed down from generation to generation for an undocumented amount of time. A trip to a jewelry appraiser in the city shortly after she inherited it at the age of sixteen gained the knowledge that it wasn't worth much.
"Fifteen dollars," the man had said, holding the ring out to her. "Not worth much."
She fought the urge to glare at the man and instead left the shop without another word.
Although its intrinsic value was next to nil, the value of the ring meant much more than fifteen dollars worth of silver-alloy and a sliver of worthless stone. Her own granddaughter would someday realize this much more than she knew herself. It was the fact that every woman in her family from 1850 until the present had worn that ring that made it so valuable. Photographs disappear or can be improperly labeled, wedding dresses mildewed and dissolved with time, but the ring had an inerasable history.
If the ring could talk, which her granddaughter would say it would never be able to do, it would attest to the fact that it had once inadvertently shaken the hand of Lady Bird Johnson. It would say that a woman with only the clothing on her back and a ring on her finger had once hidden three days in a storm culvert to hide from her abusive husband. It would say that it was once worn by a still born child as it was baptized by the local priest. It would say that it was slid on the finger of a young bride as she was wished bon voyage by her mother.
It had history. It had a former life that could never be denied.
The wedding they attended that day in 1962--mother, father and three young daughters, was a bright and classic affair, worthy of all of the Jackie Kennedys of the world.
"Calm down, Tempe," Ruth snapped at her sister. Temperance was the middle daughter born to Karen and Frank Stanley. She looked everything like her older sister with the exception of a set of startlingly blue eyes and a wild temper which earned her the nickname of Temper-Tantrum.
"It's itchy," she whined back, scratching at the stiff polyester dress with white kid-gloved hands.
"Girls, do I have to separate you?" This time it was Frank, who gave the girls a stern look, his jaws set firmly with anger or something close to it.
"No, sir," Ruth replied before she shot her sister a cold glare. The glare said for Tempe to behave. Be silent. Be still. Be anything but a burden and an annoying little brat.
"Mama, I gotta potty!" This came from the youngest, three year old Anna.
"You wanna take her, hun?" Husband whispered to wife.
"I'll take her," Ruth interjected.
"You know where the rest room is?" Frank asked his eldest.
Ruth nodded and took Anna by the hand, leading her down the aisle. The wedding party had already begun to assemble outside of the double doors. Ruth was quick to notice the women--so many beautiful young women dressed in organdy and lace. A cloud of cream, floating full skirts and sweetheart necklines.
Ruth was startled to see a tall woman in a taffeta cocktail dress standing next to her.
"Wedding's about to begin. Why don't you and your li'l sister go sit down?"
"My sister has to pee." She hated herself almost immediately for spitting out such an incoherent sentence. It nearly cemented the theories by most adults that she was a child with a childlike brain.
She breathed deeply and turned to a man in a green tweed suit and coiffed hair. "She's gotta pee, Dick."
He cleared his throat. "Five minutes."
She turned back, bending a little, and condescending-to-the-tee, "Hear that, honey? Five minutes, or your mommy and daddy gon' beat you for being left in the hallway."
"C'mon, Anna." She had to remind herself of the rule of thumb: be seen, but not heard. She would leave talk-back when it came to Tempe and her big mouth when time came to it.
When she returned, the music was beginning. A woman in black cat frames was beginning to play the wedding march on the organ. Tempe was quick to point out to her sister, "You almost got in trouble. If you was a little later, daddy was gonna spank you."
"Shut up, Temper-Tantrum."
Her father looked harshly in their direction again. A look that was clearly read: Another word out of you and you'll go to bed without supper. Once sure that his daughters would remain well-behaved, he looked forward, straight-backed and listened for the bride's music to begin--which it did shortly. The audience stood as she and her escorts walked down the aisle.
"I hate you," Ruth whispered.
"Hate you more."
Her father reached out and smacked Ruth, who was closest, in the back of her head. There wasn't the kind of stigma in those days that came with corporal punishment. Eyes watered silently as the audience sat and the priest began his initial blessings and prayers over the couple.
Where most young girls, Anna and Tempe included, would have sat back in awe of the beauty of such a fairy tale wedding, Ruth slouched in her chair, her mind acloud with silent anger. How was it that she was always in charge of her sisters? How was it that she was never appreciated? She was twelve but often felt more like a second mother to her sisters. Not a single thought passed through her mind about how terribly selfish her thoughts were. But she was twelve, after all.
She was a twelve year old who wasn't enjoying a single moment of the wedding. She wanted to tear off the stupid dress her mother had put her in, put back on her clam-diggers and raise a raucous. She wanted to pull her sister's chocolatey curls. She wanted to throw cake at the ring bearer. She wanted to scream.
It wasn't hard to see that Ruth Stanley AKA future Ruth Keenan AKA Christine Brennan was a little spitfire with a rebellious streak. From day one, she was painfully compliant on the outside: doing her parents' will, taking care of her siblings, getting good marks in geography—But also from day one, she hated it all. She wanted to break out of her shell. She wanted to do something to get her name on the chalkboard. She wanted to kiss boys under the monkey bars. She wanted to learn how to shoot her daddy's .22. She wanted to wear pants, say 'piss', skip studying for her algebra test, listen to the Beatles, and thumb through Mad Magazine.
But as known for her independent streak as she was, she was also known for her sweet nature, easy laughter, and sparkling brown eyes.
That's what made her her.
They left the church reception hall shortly after the rain began to fall.
"We should go so we don't have to drive in this rain," she overheard her father saying to her mother. She nodded her bouffant and said her farewells to the other women whose husbands were retrieving them and herding them through the door like lost and overly primmed and powdered cattle.
Ruth was more than happy to get out of that church. Her mind was still brewing. She was still angry. And the downpour only made things that much worse.
She stomped across the country street, slipping half way in her kitten heels. She caught herself and continued her march.
"Wait up, Ruthie!" Her father lit up a cigar, threw the match to the curb and grabbed Anna's hand.
Ruth turned at the Ford and looked back at her family. Her father was walking toward her holding Anna's hand. Her mother was still gossiping on the curb with Mrs. Bauer who once taught her Catechism Class.
"Shut your mouth." Frank puffed a few more times before smothering the cigar under foot.
Ruth leaned against the Fairlane, hands tucked into pockets, head tipped to one side impatiently. "Mom! It's cold!"
"Get in the car," she shot back, turning and talking to Mrs. Bauer once more.
Through the dim light and rain, Ruth could see Tempe hopping down the steps of St. Michael's and toward the car.
Karen absently looked at her daughter, "Don't run, sweetie," then she continued her conversation.
"You're such a brat," Ruth told her sister as she ran across the street toward her. She stopped in the middle of the road having lost her shoe. Ruth growled at the inconvenience.
Nobody noticed the speeding Chrysler until it was too late. Tempe herself was probably the first to notice. She let out a short little shriek. A yelp. A gasp.
But it was all too late. Medical care wasn't what it is today and ambulances were next to nonexistent, especially in small towns.
The rest of the night was a nightmare. Anna sat up front crying and peeping over the seat as her father, cold-eyed sped to the next town over where the teaching hospital was.
In the back seat, Ruth held her sister's broken legs. Her mother smoothed back Tempe's hair and sung a lullaby through tears.
"All night, all day,
Angels watching over me, my Lord.
All night, all day,
Angels watching over me."
Tempe held her mother's hand and stared into her eyes. She didn't blink. She breathed shallowly. Crimson blood soaked lilac-hued organdy.
"Sun is a-setting in the West;
Angels watching over me, my Lord.
Sleep my child, take your rest;
Angels watching over me."
Ruth watched her sister's lively blue eyes glow dull.