The characters? Property of the WB. The story? Copyrighted by Ishafel 4/29/2002.

Rated R for violence, drug use and adult themes. This is the end of this particular story, and although the characters, Lucy in particular, have not always behaved as I intended, I've come to like them. Thank you for reading.


Chapter Four

"Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall"

December 24

Early Evening

Truth is a weapon. Truth is a dagger, drawn. Truth is a row of cuts just deep enough to scar, a record of pain that is and has always been meaningless. The truth is that no one has ever loved Lucy best, or ever will. She is no one's favorite child; has no beauty, no ambition, and no great brain. She cannot blame Matt for hating her, Robbie for being sickened, their mother for dying, her father for leaving. Simon pities her and Ruthie despises her, and in the end they are right, because she has failed them all.

In the kitchen Lucy cooked, because that was all that she could think of to do. Matt and Robbie had gone to look for her father and had not come back. Simon and Ruthie had simply disappeared. Her mother was weaker today, as if all her carefully hoarded strength had left her in the night. From the living room she could hear laughter, faintly, and more strongly the noise of the television. Mary was watching Christmas movies with the twins.

Sharp objects held no fear for Lucy and she peeled the potatoes recklessly. She never cut herself by accident anyway. The important thing was to have dinner on the table when the others got home, so that there would be no time for talking. The important thing was that it was Christmas Eve. She flipped the radio on, hoping for Christmas music, but the opening chords of "Silent Night" were meant only as a background to the news.

This is the early evening edition of the news, live from Glenoak, California.

Another suicide bomber has struck a crowded restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel. Twelve civilians, three of them children, are dead. Israeli officials have vowed to retaliate.

Vice President Cheney has admitted to being involved in the Enron coverup scheme, but argues that his secrecy was for the good of the country.

A man was found allegedly dead at his own hand today in a church in Glenoak. We have been asked to withhold his name until his family is notified. Police are investigating.

Local unemployment rates are skyrocketing, up .9 percent this month despite the holiday season.

According to Glenoak police, hate crimes against homosexuals have increased recently following the spring's sharp drop. Police Sergeant Michaels attributes the rise to declining community interest in the issue.

A recent survey shows that smoking rates among teens have recently shot up despite anti-smoking campaigns.

Despite the recession, medical costs have continued to increase. Many families are now unable to provide long term patient care for cancer and terminal diseases.

Crawford College has experienced a decline in enrollment and will be decreasing its faculty in an effort to cut costs.

From Glenoak's WB 7, that's the 5 o'clock edition of the news,

Goodnight, and Merry Christmas.

Silent night

Holy night

All is calm

All is bright

Round yon virgin mother and child

Holy infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.

After "7 o'clock News/Silent Night" (P. Simon, 1966)

There seemed to be nothing left to do or say; it was as if Lucy's life had fallen apart a long time ago and looking back she knew that that was true. Glenoak had always seemed safe to her, as if her father's strength and love could keep out the world. But the world was here now, with all its danger and promise and glory and nothing, not Eric Camden, not the cuts on her arms, not even the gun Simon fondly imagined was his secret alone, could keep it at bay any longer. If her father was dead then the children were her responsibility, hers to love and support and discipline. It was up to Lucy now to keep her father's dreams alive; she had not made him happy in life and she could not disappoint him in death.

Confident now, she cleared the morning paper from the table, arranged the napkins just so, the silverware in its place. She knew that she could do this--play the perfect wife and mother for an audience that did not exist--if she could just keep from thinking. And if there was one thing Lucy was good at, it was avoiding thought. She would be everything Annie had not been, and if that was not what she had once imagined she would do with her life, well, it must be enough for her. The Bible said it was a woman's duty--

Lucy let the gravy boat drop, and did not notice when it shattered on the kitchen floor. What had duty ever done for her? They had no right, any of them, but least of all her father, to expect anything more of her simply because she was a woman. She would not live Annie's life, not if she could help it.

When she looked up, Mary was standing framed in the kitchen doorway. "You dropped Mom's gravy boat?" she asked. "Boy, Lucy, she is not going to like that." She smirked a little, no doubt thinking of how Annie might react.

"I think she's beyond noticing," Lucy answered drearily. She grabbed her car keys from the counter, and her jacket from the hook.

"Where are you going?" Mary followed her out the door. "Isn't it almost time for dinner?"

"Out," Lucy said sharply. "And you can damn well stir the potatoes and take the chicken out of the oven yourself." She had forgotten her purse but there was $200 in her pocket, meant to buy the week's groceries, and her driver's license was clipped under the visor mirror. She could live without makeup for a little while, without the credit card her father had given her to make the family's purchases with. She could live without her family, if it came to that, and let duty do as it would.

"But" Mary started, clearly puzzled.

"I'm going out for ice cream," Lucy lied. "Merry Christmas, Mary Camden." She backed the car out of the garage much too fast, and and turned the radio up loud enough to ruin her hearing. She fumbled in the glove compartment for her sunglasses and turned out onto the main road without even looking. Even danger was more appealing to duty.

"Duty," Matt said, clearing his throat nervously. "It's my duty to tell them. I'm the eldest, and I'll do it." Robbie didn't say anything. He thought he might throw up again. He knew all about duty, or honor, or responsibility, whatever you called it. He had gone to see the body with Matt, had felt he'd had to. He would stay with the Camdens, help them do whatever was necessary, because he always did what was expected of him. He would walk away from Lucy without ever telling her the truth, because it wasn't fair to burden her with his unhappiness. Someday this would all be over, the twins old enough to go to college, and he would still be young enough to marry, start a family of his own, begin the whole thing all over again. Robbie knew all about doing what was right.

They pulled into the driveway. Only Annie's car was there, the one she was supposed to share with Simon but had never let him drive. That would all change, of course, when Annie was gone. Really, she shouldn't have been driving it either, not with the painkillers she took, but she went out so rarely none of them had bothered to fight about it. It seemed odd that Lucy was out, but maybe she had gone to get pizza for dinner. He swallowed uneasily, thinking of blood, and thanked Christ they had not had Ruthie with them. That made him remember that Ruthie would never see her father again; that the twins might well grow up calling him or Matt or Simon father. Although he had come to hate the Reverend and everything he stood for, the thought made him choke back a sob.

He got out of the car and looked back at Matt, who was still staring blankly straight ahead. "It'll be all right, chief," he said softly. "It was for the best."

Matt stared up at him, eyes filled with tears. "You promise?" he asked, half seriously, and Robbie nodded before he could stop himself. "Okay, then."

The house smelled like burned potatoes. Mary stood beside the stove, looking both guilty and a little lost. "She said to stir them," she whined, "but it isn't helping anymore."

Robbie reached over shoulder for the oven controls. "You have to turn them off, eventually. I think they're more than done." Mary blinked and he suddenly regretted his sarcasm. "It's okay, logical mistake, anyone could have made it," he told her firmly, and she rewarded him with a tremulous smile.

"Not anyone," she responded, a little sadly. "Sometimes I'm not very smart, am I?"

No kidding, Robbie thought, but he reassured her anyway. It wasn't her fault, not really, that her little girl voice and fluttering eyelashes annoyed him. It wasn't her fault she was what she was; that blame could be put squarely on heredity. It had always amused him a little, as well as disgusted him, that Mary the favored child had so little self-confidence that she sought approval anywhere she could get it. Her parents would have walked through fire for her but they had not been able to bring themselves to be kind.

"I'm going upstairs to change," he said, changing the subject. "I think we can just throw that pan out and pretend it never happened. It looks like that chicken's about done and there's probably some frozen vegetables. They're really easy to make."

"I'm sure I can do it!" Mary answered, with an enthusiasm wholly out of porportion for frozen vegetables. Idiot, he almost said, even the twins could do it, and realizing how unkind that would have been, went upstairs, a silent Matt on his heels.

"I'm going to take a shower," he informed Matt. "I'll be quick, though. Why don't you tell Simon and Ruthie dinner is almost ready, and ask them to get the twins ready?" He ducked into the bathroom before Matt could answer him, glad to finally be alone.

Matt knocked on Simon's door, glad to have orders to follow. Simon answered it, looking angry once again. "What do you want?" he demanded.

"Dinner is in ten minutes," Matt replied.

"I'm not hungry," Simon snarled, and started to slam the door.

Matt blocked it with his foot. "Tough. You need to be there. We need to have a family meeting." When Simon didn't respond, he turned to go.

His brother's voice, less nasty than usual, stopped him. "Matt?"

He looked over his shoulder. "Yes?"

"You haven't been in the garage apartment, have you? I mean, I hid all my Christmas presents there" Simon's voice trailed off.

Puzzled by Simon's urgency, Matt shook his head.

"Good," Simon snapped, but he still seemed worried. Before Matt could question him, though, he had shut the door and Matt let it go.

At the foot of the attic steps, he called, "Ruthie?" His voice echoed oddly but she didn't answer. "Ruthie?" he called, louder.

A muffled voice responded from the first floor and he went wearily down into the living room. The twins were watching a Rudolph cartoon, one his father would have despised, but he ignored it. Ruthie was nowhere to be seen.

"Where's your sister?" he asked Sam, but his brother ignored him, mesmerized by claymation Rudolph.

"I'm here," a distorted voice answered from behind the couch. Ruthie stood up, her face smeared with dust and swollen from crying. She knows, Matt thought, horrified. How does she always know? "Hey, Ruthie," he began gently.

"Don't call me Ruthie anymore," his baby sister said flatly. "Robbie, Ruthie, Lucy, Annie, Mary, all of our names sound alike and I hate it. Call me Ruth."

"Are you crying because you don't like your name?" Matt was mystified.

"Leave me alone!" Ruthie bolted past him and he sighed and sat down, exhausted.

"Dinner," Mary yelled. "Hurry or it'll be ruined!"

Simon clattered down the stairs, followed by Robbie, hastily pulling on his shirt, and Ruthie who had clearly just splashed water on her face.

They all sat quietly at the dining room table. Simon eyed them suspiciously. Mary was too dumb, Matt never lied, Ruthie was absorbed in something else, Robbie wouldn't have bothered, the twins were too young and his mother too weak. Where Lucy was, seemed to be anyone's guess. The chicken was so dry as to be almost inedible, the peas still half frozen, the cranberry sauce still in the can. Mary was no housewife; he pitied the baby she carried. No one else seemed to have noticed that dinner was ruined. Matt and Robbie eyed each other and swallowed convulsively, and neither of them touched their food. The twins and Mary ate hungrily, and Ruthie sulked as hard as Simon ever had.

When the phone rang they all dived for it, and Simon, who was most alert, won. "It's Seargant Michaels," he announced, and Mary blushed with happiness. It was clear, now, who the man in her life must be. "He wants to talk to you, Matt," he relayed, and Mary paled. "He says it's because you're the man of the family." Into the phone, he said, loudly, "So, Seargant, my sister is smart enough for you to fuck, and smart enough to carry your baby, but not smart enough to talk to?" That it was true just made the whole thing more interesting.

Matt sat as if frozen but Robbie rose to meet him. "Sit down, Simon," he said, and there was a cold, hard weight to his voice that made Simon obey. He took the phone and turned away, and they all stared after him. He listened to whatever Seargant Michaels had to say, thanked him, and hung up. Matt pushed his plate away and put his head down on forearms. Robbie moved to stand behind him, putting one hand on his shoulder in a forlorn hope to comfort. "There's something you all need to know," he began. "It's going to be hard to hear and harder to live with. And I'm sorry to have be the one to tell you, but I think you should hear it from someone who loves you like a brother." Mary and the twins looked up at him, bright and curious, but Simon and Ruthie stared at their plates. "Simon, could you take Sam and David into the living room, please?"

When Simon had returned Robbie took a deep breath, and destroyed the remains of the Camdens' childhood forever. "Last night," he said and Ruthie gulped. "Last night, your father sat down at his desk and wrote you all a letter. Seargant Michaels let us make copies of it, and I'm going to read it to you now." He took the folded sheets of paper out of his pocket and shared their father's last words with them.

My children,

I find myself on the edge of a great cliff, looking down at the ruin I have made of my life. Some few great sins are unpardonable, suicide among them; in my heart I have considered them one by one and this one last of all. A sin of the heart is a sin of the hand and having committed to this one I do not have the strength to back away, to continue to fight what I have become. I must go forward into whatever dark peace I can make with myself.

I do not go gladly, nor am I afraid. Everything I have done and failed to do has brought me here; this is the one decision I still have the power to make. But if my life is a black ruin, still it has points of light, and they shine brightest in the darkness. You seven are my points of light, the candles I should have followed on the path to truth. I love you all, and I regret only that I was not strong enough to keep to the way you marked for me.

Nothing seems real to me, not the gun in my hand or the voice in my head. I dared question my God and now the only redemption I can find is through damnation; that God should know I love him enough to deny myself salvation. Perhaps this is the raving of a madman, or a fool, but it is my way of begging God's forgiveness. It is the only way I can think of. I leave you all to the mercy of Christ and the hope that you will live in Him as I could not. Pray for me, that the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions, and that in hell I may pay for my sins once and for all.

All my love,


"After he wrote the letter, he ended his life. I'm more sorry than I can say. Your father was a good man who did his best and he helped a lot of people, me included." They sat quietly, none of them looking at one another, and after a moment Robbie dropped the copy of the letter on the table and backed away. He was nearly out of the room when the door opened and Lucy came in. There was a radiant confidence to her he had never seen before, as if in the course of a few hours she had learned something about herself and she liked it.

It gave Robbie hope, seeing her like that; he thought that some day, everything just might be going to be all right. The Camdens were his family, now, and he was proud of them. He was proud of how strong they were, how they always tried to do what was right even if it hurt. How they fought for each other. How they were smart enough not to make their parents' mistakes, to substitute duty for love.

In the living room the twins had knocked some of the glass balls off the Christmas tree. Robbie got a roll of masking tape and taped them carefully back together, then helped each twin find a spot on the tree to hang them. It looked a little lopsided now, Annie's perfect tree. He took the silver and blue tinsel Lucy had bought, and the ugly plastic ornaments from the dollar store, and hung them on, too, disarranging the strands of perfectly popped corn coated in hairspray, the handmade paperchains. Annie's color scheme was ruined, but Sam and David clapped their hands in joy and Robbie smiled. Sometimes fighting to be perfect destroyed you. Sometimes peace was the best goal of all.