Momma invites her up to her bedroom, once everything's over.
"Tea?" she offers.
"Since when is that your drink?"
"Since yesterday. I'm trying it, Charlotte. Trying to see how it feels, living this life of mine clean. I'll come to LA, I think. And I'll go to your meeting."
"Oh, Momma, I'm proud of you."
"Not lived it for long enough to deserve proud, but thank you. Now, when did you want me coming up there?"
"When were you thinking?"
"Well, I was thinking that at some point soon, there might be some proceedings. Dealing with that thing what happened to you."
Her heart stops for a second. "Did Coop..."
"Now, none of that. I'm your momma, and I know these things. There was that week you missed your phone call, for one thing. Ever since then, I'd wondered...then seeing you again, seeing your man, seeing you together...well, a mother knows. Now, you don't have to say a word to me, and I reckon I'd rather you didn't, if that's all right. But I've guessed enough to wager there will be proceedings. And if you want me there for them, you just need to say the word."
"I know I wasn't great with when you were small, Charlotte. But you ain't small now, and I'm trying to be better. What with your father gone...well, a woman gets lonely. Looks for some connections in her life. I'd like us to be friends, baby girl. More than we have been. Can we try?"
It's like anything else, she's learning. There has to be effort, for things to get better. And she can make that effort, she thinks, if others are there to help her. Damn, she's turning goopy. Violet will be so proud.
Their last night in her childhood home, she snuggles up beside Cooper, lets her head rest in the crook of his arm as he cuddles her. She's not quite ready for anything with the clothes off; he's letting her set the pace on the touching. Head on skin, that's fine. Hands on top of her, she still feels that first flush of revulsion and panic before she settles in, but then it's all right. Less talking is fine, but to her surprise, more talking is sometimes fine too.
"I admit," she confesses. "That I'm still having trouble with one big part of this."
"This whole getting better thing. I mean, I found a safe place out here, a real one and not just in my head. Got close to my mother. Closer to you than I've ever been. Those are blessings. But they're all coming from something so awful..."
"Now, listen. You don't give yourself enough credit, Charlotte King. You'd have gotten there, on all of these things, one way or the other. Because it's life, and you learn, and you grow and things happen. If this hadn't started it, something else would have."
"But something else didn't. It was this."
"And with Violet, it was Katie. And with Pete, it was his mother. And with me, it was my brother. Life happens, Charlotte, to everyone. And good things change us, and bad things change us, and we just muddle along and try to do the best we can with things. You don't need to feel guilty, for having this, and a whole bunch of other things, being a part of you."
She nods. "You know, they knew about it, and I didn't think they would. Momma and the boys. None of 'em said it, in so many words. But just because they're not a bunch of talkers don't mean they don't see. They knew it. And they've been here for me, in their own ways, the whole time we've been here. And I wouldn't have seen it if you hadn't...if we weren't..."
"Hey. No tears, baby, no tears. It's okay..."
But they're cleansing tears this time-of grieving, but also of gratitude. For him, for them, for the ones back home who pushed and let her feel like maybe she'll be okay again. They're cleansing tears. And he holds her and lets her get them out.
She wakes up screaming and kicking at the bedsheets. Coop's there, almost on top of her, trying to wrestle her to calm again. And as she comes to and reality returns to her, the betrayal takes her breath away. Here, she's had her best day in weeks, her most healing and cathartic day, at a place full of people who love her, and that son of a bitch bastard who did this can reach her here?
"Hey. Breathe, baby. Char, it's okay..."
There's a knock at the door, and she buries her head under the sweaty blankets, shakes her head at him. He pats her arm, goes to the door, says the necessary things. A moment later, it's quiet. He comes back to bed, turns on the bedside lamp, faces her.
"You know," he says. "This will happen."
"Shut it, Coop."
"And that will happen too," he says. "I'll still be here. You're healing. I know you are. But there's still a lot of processing. Still a road ahead."
"You're sounding like a self-help book, Coop."
"Well, it got you calm again, didn't it?"
She sighs. "You sure do love to talk."
"Damn right, and it's one of the things you love about me. Feeling better?"
"Maybe. Who was out there, Coop? Momma? Them boys?"
"Landry, but I got the feeling he was representing."
"So, they all know. Damn."
"What they know is, they heard us awake and wanted to make sure everything was okay in here. That's it, Charlotte."
"But no, you know those boys. Good old repressed Southern lads that they are, they won't over-think this. Why should you?"
"Say it." And then, he's whispering it like a mantra, over and over again. "Come on, baby, just this one time, say it. Say it."
"Cause if I don't, it means I just accept it, Coop! I just accept that he still gets to be in my head. And I can't...I can't..."
"Hey..." He folds his arms around her, rocks her gently. "Shhh, baby, it's okay..."
"I want it done. Every time this happens, every time I wake up with that man's face in my head, it means it isn't done, and I've just worked so hard to make it be..."
"These things take time."
She closes her eyes again. "I know they do. But Coop, lord help me, I just want it done."
Momma's in cheerful spirits when they see her at the breakfast table- a little too cheerful, when she thinks about it. Trying to pretend she didn't hear whatever she heard last night. The boys won't quite meet her eye, and, trading exasperated glances with Cooper, she pulls Landry aside and lets him have it.
"Ninth grade. Junior prom. You and that the littlest Holcomb sister."
"She dumped your ass halfway through Sinatra, threw a glass of punch in your face. You cried for weeks, Landry, like a baby. Wept in Grandmomma's lap. Saw that glass of punch coming at you over and over and over again in your head..."
"Jeez, baby girl..."
"And I reckon me saying this right now, you can still picture it, can't ya? Still hear that clink of ice in that glass, every time you hear Sinatra."
"Never did like that song."
"Well, you know what I'm getting at. Person goes through a thing, they're entitled to some business. And they don't need you two lunks getting underfoot about it, you hear me? You put it away, little brother. You look at me that way again, and I promise you, Clarissa Holcomb won't be the only girl who'll ever give you a scene to remember. You get me?"
"We love you," he says. "We don't know what to do."
"You're doing it. That's all you need to know, and I'll I'm gonna tell ya. Some things, you'd best keep vague. You understand me?"
"I'll imagine," he says, in a voice so quiet she almost doesn't hear. "Duke, he doesn't...I do, though. Drives me out to Grandmom's when I can't stop thinking too much, and I find peace there. But baby girl, I imagine."
"Then imagine Coop with me, handling it. Cause that's how I'm getting through this thing. We're none of us alone, Landry King."
"Baby girl, just tell me you're okay. Tell me, or I'll imagine..."
"Gettin' there, and that's the truth. It helped, coming here. Didn't know it would, but it helped, and I'm gettin' there. You don't need to put any other pictures in your head but that. Now, can you look at me? Can you look at me and put this all behind you like the good old repressed Southern boy you are?"
He smiles at that. Asks her if she wants one more stab at his rifles before she goes. They don't have time for a drive to the country, but she recognizes that he needs to see her leave in strength, so she challenges him to an arm wrestle.
And she beats him.
With the broken hand.
Thanks so much for reading! Your wonderful comments made it all worthwhile. Glad you enjoyed the story!