There was a regular chapter update right before this one. Make sure you read that one as well.
This interlude picks up right where the prologue left off. There is also a related outtake in Give Us This Day.
SMeyer owns Twilight.
Franny had always been a fast and deep sleeper. But not tonight. She had done right by Mary, at the end, but it hadn't been enough.
I should have told him everything.
But you don't know everything, her conscience countered.
I know enough.
All her secrets were coiled tightly and, in the silence of early morning, she let one unfurl until it revealed its prize: a memory. Somewhere in Biloxi, on a plush bed covered in her mother's handmade quilt, she lay with a petite, black-haired, porcelain girl who would point out the cracks, dips, and pockmarks in the ceiling and connect them like constellations.
"See those three spots, Franny? They look just like Orion's belt." And in the summer of 1925, when a blackout killed enough light to let the stars shine, Mary had shown her the real thing.
But it wasn't 1925, and she wasn't a girl anymore. It was 2005, and a very tired Franny lay in her threadbare cotton sheets and long nightgown that had seen better days. The fan she had on was making her cold but she didn't want to move; not yet. She stared at the popcorn ceiling, connecting the dots just as she used to, until the sun rose over the house and her alarm clock began its incessant beeping. She needed to take her medicine, and then she needed answers. It was the latter thought that finally made her get out of bed, aching bones be damned, and she trudged, limping, to the attic stairs.
The hallway that led from her bedroom to the living room was lined with pictures. She passed her fingers over the gilded frames of each one, the snapshots of her children's first softball games, Christmases, and weddings arranged chronologically. "This is the story of my life," she thought, "but not all of it," and moved just a little faster.
To call the space above her head an attic felt like a joke; it was a small crawl space packed with boxes John had shoved in when they had first moved in. Many of them hadn't been touched in years, and Franny hoped she could find what she was looking for. She reached up and grasped the edge of the pull cord firmly; slowly, slowly the creaky attic steps unfolded. She began her ascent slowly, using her hands on the steps in front of her, huffing with each move. She knew her breathlessness was a mix of anticipation, worry, and shame, but she couldn't deny her age either. Halfway through she knew she wasn't going to make it and she leaned awkwardly against the wood railing, the sounds of her gasps echoing through the hallway. She couldn't go up any further but was terrified of trying to climb back down.
Five minutes later, Franny made out the sound of tires coming up the road. When they stopped outside her house, she took a deep breath and began to yell. "Rodney! Rodney! Rodneeeeeey!" She thought perhaps he had gone but eventually front door swung open. "Mrs. Marchland?"
Rodney appeared just below her, his mailbag slung across his chest, his brown hair matted to his forehead with sweat, and his eyes and mouth both open wide.
"Close that mouth," Franny chastised, "and help an old lady down. I got winded."
Rodney waited until she was seated in a kitchen chair and gulped down half a glass of water before speaking. "I saw the broken glass on your front porch and thought someone had broken a window. Thank goodness I saw that." He shook his eyed and crouched so he was eye level with her. "What in the world were you thinkin'? You could have fallen and hurt yourself! Who would have noticed?"
"You would have, eventually. Thank God I'm only the second house on your route."
"What in the world were you climbing up there for, anyway?"
Franny set her glass down and gave Rodney a pleading gaze. "There is something in that attic that is very important. I know you're not finished with your mail run, but could you get it for me? Please?"
Rodney mused silently. He had never seen the feisty old lady beg for anything; whatever it was she wanted must be terribly important. He set his mailbag on an empty chair and gestured toward the attic. "What do you need?"
Franny couldn't contain her smile while she described a mahogany box with intricate carved flowers and a small latch. "It should be right on top of everything," she yelled to Rodney's retreating back. He gave a wave and disappeared up the steps.
One of the most infuriating things about Pearlington, at least according to Franny, was that it didn't have a police station. If they couldn't get over to the station in Biloxi, the citizens of Pearlington went to the volunteer fire station in town to file complaints. It was a one-story beige building that looked completely out of place. The lone fire truck sat outside in the driveway; the station didn't even have a proper garage.
Franny stood outside, hands on hips, and shook her head. "Madness," she whispered under her breath.
"Are you sure about this?" Rodney asked her. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and pointed his chin towards the entrance. "You could have just called Mark, you know." Franny scoffed and waved him off. "Mark won't do anything unless I scare him into it. Wait for me here."
Save for the kitchen and bathroom, the firehouse was one large room. The desks were mismatched and several of the chairs were missing their stuffing. On the far left was the largest desk, covered with pile upon pile of newspaper clippings, empty coffee cups, and a pizza box. Mark was sitting behind it, spinning lazily in his office chair, while eating a pizza slice covered with pepperoni and sausage.
Mark planted his feet on the floor and looked up. Franny didn't know whether to knock him on the ear or laugh at him.
She was wearing her Sunday best, complete with a Jackie O pillbox hat, and had a smug grin on her face. Mark grinned and got up to greet her.
"What are you doing here? You know you could have just called me if you needed something."
"Yes, well, it's good I decided to come in for a visit. Aren't you supposed to be watching that cholesterol of yours?"
Mark wiped his greasy hands on his pants and grinned sheepishly. "It's just a slice, it won't hurt nothing. Would you like something to drink?" He grabbed a chair from a nearby desk and held her elbow while she eased into the seat. She refused the drink. "So what can I help you with?"
"Mark, I was robbed last night."
Mark straightened up immediately. "Why didn't you call the police sooner?" He picked up his phone and cradled the earpiece between his shoulder and ear while rifling through the papers on his desk. "Are you hurt? Do you need medical assistance?"
"What I need is an APB."
"An APB? Is that your heart medicine?" He frantically gestured to one of the other firefighters in the building. "Fred, run over and get the doc!"
Franny scoffed and threw her hands in the air. "Oh, Mark, don't be such a nitwit! I wouldn't be here if I needed a doctor. Put the phone down."
Mark sighed, placed the phone back on its hook, and motioned for Fred to go back to whatever he was doing.
"So, when you say an APB you actually mean an-"
"All points bulletin. I want every police station in the country to get a description of the little hooligan and hunt him down!"
Mark gulped and leaned forward in his chair. "Jesus, what did he steal from you?"
"A…You want an APB over a teacup?"
"Mark Jones, it wasn't just a teacup. It was my mother's."
Mark didn't look convinced.
"Besides, it's the principle of the thing. Now grab a pen and write this down." Mark rolled his eyes but picked up a pen and listened closely as Franny rattled off a full description of the robber.
"And his name was Jasper. I'm sure you'll find him; that's not a very common name at all, is it?"
"It's likely he used an alias. He's not stupid enough to use his own name."
Franny cackled and slapped her knee. "Oh, that's his name. I guarantee it." She narrowed her eyes. "You will find him, won't you?"
Mark gave a sigh and tapped his pen on the desk. "Look, Mrs. Marchland…"
"How's your mother?" Franny interrupted.
"Your mother. How is she?"
"Fine. Why do you ask?"
"She's been asking me over for a while to join her bridge club. I find the game detestable but a little chat wouldn't hurt."
"Did you ever tell her about the slew of nudie magazines I found under your bed that one time?"
Mark huffed and threw down his pen. "That's low, Franny."
She shrugged. "Whatever works." She stood up slowly and reached over to pat Mark on the shoulder. "It's nice to hear you call me Franny again. You're a good boy, Mark. Would you like a butterscotch?"
Mark shook his head but she was already reaching into her purse.
"Here's two. Save one for after dinner. And walk me out, for heaven's sake. My knees ain't what they used to be."
Three days passed with no word from Mark. Franny waited until the fourth day to call him but he only sighed and said he had no news. "I sent a notice to all the police stations from here to Montana. I haven't gotten any word yet. We might never find this guy."
"Mark, you have to try harder."
"I'm sorry, Franny, but no one's real concerned about finding a teacup. I've done everything I can."
Franny hung up the phone feeling dejected. She stared at it for a moment feeling the sting of incoming tears prick at the corner of her eyes.
To hell with this, she thought. I'm too old to cry.
She was hunched over her sink, rinsing her dinner plate, when she heard a light rap at the window. The noise startled her so much she dropped the plate, and gasped as it shattered when it hit the floor.
"Franny, it's me!"
Franny clutched her hand to her chest and used the other to pull back the short café curtains hanging over the window. Jasper was standing outside, peering through the screen. He didn't have a hat on this time, and his blond hair nearly covered all of one eye. "Good evening, ma'am."
"Good evening?" Franny looked around for something to throw at him but just the effort of looking tired her out. She inched her way over to the front door and pulled it open. As she walked to one of the kitchen chairs, she muttered under her breath. "First my pitcher and now my plate. It's like he has a grudge against my dishes."
"Ah, don't forget the teacup I stole from you as well," Jasper joked from the doorway.
Franny felt herself blush. "Yes, well, that must have escaped your recollection."
"I doubt it. I don't forget easily."
"Neither do I." Franny pointed to the door and then the chair across from her. "Won't you come in?"
"No thank you, ma'am. I prefer to stay here."
Franny narrowed her eyes and studied Jasper closely. She observed the way he put effort into the smallest of movements; the twitching of his fingers, the rolling of his weight from heel to toe and back again. There's something strange about him, she thought. Perhaps I should call Mark and ask if he'll sit in with us. Suddenly Franny found herself struggling to stay awake.
"Perhaps I should come back some other day."
"No!" Franny fought the sleep. "No, please. Please. If I don't get this out now, I may never have another chance."
Jasper took a step back. He fished out his cell phone and took a quick glance at the screen before planting his feet firmly on the porch. "What do you need another chance for, Franny? Why were you trying to find me?"
"Because I didn't tell you everything I know." Franny took a deep breath and then another. Eventually she lifted her chin and pointed towards the small carved box sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. She had left it there in hopes she would have someone to show it to. "That," she paused and shook her head, "That box sat in my attic for 20 years. Before that it sat in a basement in our old house in Gulfport. Before that, it was kept on the second shelf of the hall closet, right next to the Christmas decorations."
"Why is this important?"
"Because before that, dear, it sat on my mother's dresser."
The statement piqued Jasper's curiosity. "I still don't understand. Is it a jewelry box?"
"I'm sure that's what it was a long time ago. All throughout my childhood I thought my momma kept keepsakes in there, the good jewelry." Franny sighed; this time she let the constriction in her chest work its way through. "Jasper, she kept her diary in there. And you need to read it."
"Because someone has to know and you're the only one who's asked in over thirty years. Read it. Now."
"Ma'am, I don't think-"
Franny raised her hand to cut him off. "Now, Jasper." Franny used the table as leverage to stand and slowly walked out of the kitchen. She wandered through the living room to the old buffet that smelled like mints and held all the miscellaneous junk she never got around to tossing out. In the bottom drawer, hiding beneath some cloth dinner napkins was a half-empty pack of cigarettes and a lighter. She carried both things back into the kitchen and didn't even blink an eye when she realized both the journal and Jasper were gone. She had known they would be.
She hadn't smoked since she was pregnant with Lisa, but desperate times called for desperate measures. It took her three tries to flick on the lighter and another moment to get her hands to stop shaking long enough to light the cigarette.
She was on her fourth cigarette when she saw Jasper climbing up the porch steps. His eyes were glued to the small photograph he held in one hand; in the other he held the journal against his chest. When he got to the door, he looked quickly from the photograph to the woman in front of him. For a second, Franny thought he wasn't breathing.
"Do you smoke, Jasper?" She shook the pack of cigarettes at him. "I have a few left."
Jasper shook his head. His phone vibrated in his pocket but he made no move to answer it. "How long have you known?" he finally asked.
"That Mary was my half-sister?" Franny took a long drag and tilted her head back to exhale. She watched the smoke rise for a moment, then chuckled. "I don't know if I've ever said the words out loud before. It's a funny feeling." She clucked her tongue. "I've known since I was seventeen."
"You were told?"
"I found out," she pointed to the journal, "the same way that you did."
Jasper held out the photograph in his hand. "And this?"
"Mary Alice holding me when I was a baby. It was taken in my bedroom by someone, probably my father. He loved cameras."
"Is it the only one you have?"
"It's the only one of her I've ever seen."
"She's beautiful." Jasper said it with a reverence that made Franny feel almost giddy.
"I told you she was." Franny let out a booming laugh, then quickly put out her cigarette so ashes didn't fall on the floor. "I'm sorry, I don't know what's come over me." She wiped the tears from her eyes and waited until the giggles dissipated. Jasper smirked at her from over the photograph before sobering up.
"Why did you lie?" He wasn't accusatory, just curious.
"It's second nature. My mother never wanted anyone to talk about Mary."
"Because of the scandal."
Franny slammed her palm down on the table. "My mother wasn't ashamed, Jasper, not one bit. She would have sent everyone to hell if it had changed anything." She cleared her throat and lowered her voice. "I'm sorry, I didn't-"
"Please, I didn't mean to make you upset."
Franny shook her head. "My mother didn't want people to keep speaking badly of her. She wanted Mary to rest in peace so she never said anything. It wouldn't have changed anything."
"But why are you telling me now?"
"When I die—and that day is coming soon, I bet—there will be no one left who knows the truth. Someone has to. It's not much and I'm sure some of it has been lost or I'm remembering it wrong, but—"
"It's something," Jasper finished.
"It sure is something." Franny squinted at the clock over the stove. It was just after 9pm."What time do you turn into a pumpkin?"
"I need to leave before sunrise."
"Do you have a pen and paper?"
"I have a voice recorder on me, if that's okay."
Franny scoffed. "Technology. Alright, fine."
He took out the recorder and fiddled with it a bit. "I think I'm too far away for it to pick up your voice."
"Then bring it over here."
The silence spanned several moments before Jasper exhaled sharply. He took three large steps and placed the recorder on the edge of the table. He retreated back to the doorway quickly. "It's already on."
"Thank you," Franny smiled with a sense of pride and slid the recorder closer to her. "Are you ready?"
Franny took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Let me start off by telling you about our mother. Her name was Edith."
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