Callie sat quietly outside Mother Mary Constance's office, waiting to be called in. She twirled one of her light brown braids with her index finger, straining to listen through the walls…nothing. She kept fidgeting as she thought. Why had she been called in this time? Sure, there had been other moments like this. Like when she'd stolen Sister Therese's ruler and used it as a second drumstick, or when she'd snuck her iPod and a cable into the lunch hall and blasted her R+B playlist. Then again, there was always the time she'd run the driver's education car into the side of the bank while trying to weave through traffic. Callie smiled to herself at those memories, the lunch hall incident especially. The look of horror on Mother Mary's face was gold,pure gold, but she couldn't understand it somehow. Just the same way she couldn't understand why rhythm and blues music was banned at St. Helens.
All the same, that was why she played it in the first place.
"You may come in, Calloway," said Mother Mary's voice from behind the closed door.
Callie stood up and brushed off her tartan skirt as the door opened. She turned and stepped over the threshold, accidentally bumping the shoulder of a gawky man with glasses and a star badge.
"Sorry," she mumbled. As she glanced sideways, she noticed him giving her a strange look. "What'cha lookin' at?" she asked.
The man coughed, seeming embarrassed. "Sorry miss, I just thought I'd see you before."
"Hm." She smiled evilly. "Well, I can sure see myself on your forehead, baldie," she snarked, and before he could squawk a protest, Callie had breezed past him and into the office.
"Yes, Reverend Mother?"
Mother Mary Constance slowly looked up from her papers. "Calloway. Please sit down." Callie's eyes drifted automatically to the one desk at the back of the room.
"Not there, dear," came Mother Mary's stern voice. "Up here, where I can see you."
Callie sighed. The old bat didn't miss a thing. She reluctantly shuffled forward and stiffly eased into the chair by her desk.
Mother Mary peeked at Callie over her glasses. "Do you know why you're here, Calloway?"
"No, ma'am." Callie was telling the truth. She honestly didn't know why she was at that moment sitting in the Reverend Mother's office, and she had a feeling it was going to take a little while to find out.
Mother Mary stood up. "Well Calloway, I expect you know what today is?"
"Darn right ma'am, it's my birthday." She cringed, realizing she'd nearly sworn. The Reverend Mother glared at her for a moment or two and then relaxed and went on.
"Yes, it is your birthday." She reached for a box at the side of her desk. "You are seventeen now Calloway, and I have something here with me that ought to belong to you."
Now Callie was starting to be afraid. Five times. Mother Mary had used her full first name five times, even though she herself had abhorred it for being unladylike, and now there was a present? None of the orphans ever got presents on their birthdays. Even Christmas was lean, in spite of anonymous donations. So what exactly was going on? Something very very strange, that was for sure.
Mother Mary placed the box in front of her. "This was brought here for you by Mr. Franks, the prison collection officer." She paused to aim another glare in Callie's direction. "The one you called 'baldie.'"
"Oh yeah. Right." Callie now looked uneasily at the box. It was an oversized shoebox, beat-up and bulging as it was. "And…why is it mine, again?"
The old nun sighed heavily as she stood. "It's a wonder she's still alive," Callie thought, easing up the box lid. She remembered when she was little, the Reverend Mother didn't even have glasses. But she'd always been the Reverend Mother, so Callie supposed eyesight didn't matter too much in the grand scheme of things. She lifted the lid a tad more. Now she could see a lump of black fabric and a mass of papers. That's when the smell hit her.
"The contents of that belonged to and were the prized possessions of your father," Mother Mary answered at last, but Callie was still reeling from the stench.
"Phew! Shit Mother, what's in-OW!" She rubbed the back of her head where she'd been struck with the pointer.
"That will be quite enough, Calloway," said Mother Mary.
Six times. That was six times she'd been called Calloway. With that realization, the news finally sunk in.
Over the years, this topic had proved difficult for Callie to broach. The first time she'd asked about her parents was when she was six. The query had been posed to a newly-anointed sister who, unfortunately for kindergarten-age Callie, knew nothing on the topic. The second time was during a counseling session with Sister Marguerite when she was ten. To her disappointment, Mother Mary Constance swept in and ended the conversation. However, things took a surprising turn when Callie was dragged out of Sister Marguerite's chambers and sent to her room while Mother Mary locked herself in for a "chat." After that, Callie never brought her parents up again. A few times, she'd dreamt up a plan to steal her files, but she had always decided against it. She figured, "What's the point, since they're already dead?" But now the subject was out in the open, and she wasn't about to let the moment get away.
"Who was my father?" Callie demanded. She grimaced briefly as she fully removed the lid from the box, but held her ground. "Who was he?" She darted a hand inside the shoebox. "And why does this stuff smell so-" she stopped herself, "effing bad?"
"That, my dear, would be the smell of Joliet Prison." Mother Mary spoke stiffly, offended partly by Callie's language, but otherwise by the smell. "Your father was a known criminal."
"I'll bet." Getting used to the smell, Callie drew the box into her lap, poring over the top view of the contents. On the side with the papers, she spied the edge of a typewritten transcript. Callie smiled grimly, pinching it and pulling. Fully unfolded, it was nearly as tall as she was.
"Wow," she murmured, squinting at the seemingly endless entries. "How many times did he get locked up, anyway?" She waited for an answer but received none, so she shrugged and tossed the record aside. Next, Callie went after the fabric mass. She discovered a black suit coat and pants with a matching fedora, and nestled inside the fedora was a black clad pair of sunglasses. Callie began to chuckle. "No way. No way." She started to refold the pants. "Did he like, work for the CIA or something?"
Mother Mary sniffed. "Unlikely. In fact, quite the opposite."
"Oh, come on." Callie had slipped into the jacket and was flopping her arms around in the loose sleeves. "FBI? Undercover? Secret Service? Pentagon? Who else would wear these duds?" On a whim, she lifted am arm and took a whiff. "Smells like he wore 'em every day, too."
Mother Mary's mouth twisted into a half-smile. "It's very likely that he did, Callie, although it is far less possible that he ever held one of those jobs."
Sensing that Mother Mary was relaxing, Callie went in for the kill. "Then, what was he?" She put on the sunglasses, slipping them down her nose to do a Judge Judy impression. "Judge? Lawyer? Stylist?"
The Reverend Mother had regained her stiff composure and steady glare. "None of those things. He was a musician."
"Named?" Callie reached into the box again.
"If you hadn't tossed his record aside, you'd know."
"Aw…" Callie noted the seventh use of her full name as she blankly thumbed through a stack of photos. "Could you please tell me anyway, Reverend Mother? Just this once? Not like I'll ever have to ask you again."
"His name was Jake." Mother Mary's voice had risen, but remained resolute. "Jake Blues."
Callie scoffed. "Jake Blues?" What kind of a name is that?" She fanned the photos idly in her hand. "Pretty weird if you ask me."
"Not," said Mother Mary, snatching the pictures from her, "if you're in a band called the 'Blues Brothers.'" She slammed the stack down on her desk. "Now I'll thank you to take this a bit more seriously, young lady, or we'll have to withhold the information completely. Are we clear?"
Callie nodded numbly. If Mother Mary hadn't taken the photos from her at the moment she did, they'd have been scattered all over the office floor. Her father was a Blues Brother? The Blues Brothers were stuff of legend at St. Helens. The two boys themselves had grown up there, and since then gone on to protect it throughout their wild gigs and escapades. The Blues Brothers were also the working theory behind a long-standing missing child case and the sole reason for the banning of R+B at the orphanage.
"Good." Mother Mary got right back to business. "Your father, as you may realize now, was a man of inversely proportional wit and action. This box was put aside to go to his 'next of kin,' which he assumed would be his brother, in the event of his death. However, at that time, he had no idea that you were on the way. Luckily, one of your mother's last schemes before her…unfortunate demise was to route all of his and her surviving 'fortunes' as it were, to you." She settled back in her chair, all the while keeping posture. "And here we are."
"But wait…" Callie protested, her tone still numb, "How did my mom and dad meet? I mean, do you know how?"
"Regretfully in your case, no." The Reverend Mother leaned forward to see into the box. "We could only guess from the condition of your birth certificate that your birth and the arrangements afterward were a hasty affair. It's very likely that your father was jailed or intoxicated or both when you were named."
"Hey, back off…" said Callie, stung. "He was my dad, Reverend Mother." She looked down at the box, suddenly feeling self-conscious. Under the photos she'd removed was a folded piece of paper. She slowly took it and opened it.
"That would be the one." Mother Mary sighed. "Given your mother's background, they both decided the prison collection box would be the most secure place to keep it." She paused. "Your mother's family had ties with the mob."
"I figured." Callie fingered the ratty edges of the old paper. Her birth certificate.
"June 15th", it read, "1994. Father: Jake Blues. Mother: Carrie Danska Fischer."
Danska. She almost laughed. "Bet the Russian mob's tougher than the Italian." The words were on the tip of her tongue, but she stayed silent. Besides, the joke really wasn't that funny anyway.
'Here's one of your mother and father." Mother Mary had spread out some of the photos, and was pointing to one on Callie's left. "Just about the only one. Most of them are of Jake and Elwood."
"Elwood. Your father's brother. I was certain you knew that."
Callie blinked, putting down the paper. "Right." Of course. How dumb could she be? Blues Brothers. Implying more than one. She shook her head, trying to concentrate on the candid of her mom and dad. One thing the Reverend Mother was right about, he sure must've been drunk. She smiled wryly at it before her eyes drifted to the other stills. The differences between these and the first one she'd seen were definite: in these, her father was alive. In one, he had his mouth wide open, as if he were about to eat the microphone in front of it. Callie stifled a giggle. In a few others, her dad and Elwood were onstage doing some sort of crazy dance. In one near the bottom right, they were just standing together stone-faced in front of a car. Callie squinted. "Reverend Mother, is that a cop car?"
"Oh, yes indeed." Mother Mary didn't even look. "Of course, they started out with a Cadillac, but you know how things go."
Callie frowned. "I'm not sure I do, Reverend Mother."
Mother Mary sighed again, sounding tired. "I don't expect you ever will, Calloway. Nor will I, for that matter. Things like that mostly came down to your Uncle Elwood's being an odd bird."
Callie frowned. "What?"
"I expect you never will understand-" Mother Mary began to repeat.
Callie shook her head. "No, not that." She thought hard for a moment, and then snatched her birth certificate back up. Mother Mary said the arrangements after her birth were hasty, so…yes! She flipped to the back to find a printed custody release form. At first glance, the whole of her infant existence seemed to be put in order, signed, sealed, and shipped off to St. Helens. Callie's heart began to sink. She had thought, just maybe, that- there. There it was, right in plain sight. Under the ink and spidery penmanship (obviously her mother's) on the form were eraser marks, particularly around the blank marked "New Guardian." Before her mother had shipped her off, her father had written a name. Erased, but the smudgy letters were still readable and clear as day.
Elwood J. Blues
"Reverend Mother," said Callie, slowly, "why didn't you give me to my Uncle Elwood?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Why didn't you give me to my Uncle Elwood?" Callie repeated, feeling her voice rise.
"I don't know what you mean." The tone of Mother Mary's voice wasn't threatening, but Callie knew it wasn't truthful either.
"He wrote his name on the form." Callie's heart was beating fast. "My dad. He wrote Elwood's name on the form where it says 'new guardian.'" She put the certificate in front of Mother Mary, pointing to the line. "Right there."
The Reverend Mother straightened her glasses, then looked where Callie was pointing. She shook her head. "There's nothing there, Calloway."
"Yes there is!" Callie protested. "It's right there. Someone tried to erase it, but it's still there. Elwood J. Blues."
"But it was erased, Calloway," Mother Mary said firmly. "And there's nothing you can do about it."
"Well, look at it! There was obviously some conflict going on between good old mom and dad…" Callie began to flounder. "My dad wrote for me to go to his brother, my mom didn't think that was such a good idea, so she wrote over it. So I ended up here by mistake, see?"
"Your coming here was no mistake, Callie," said Mother Mary.
"And how do you know that?" Callie fired back.
"Because your mother didn't do the writing on that release. I did."
Callie's jaw dropped. She sat back heavily in her own chair. She stared at Mother Mary for a long time, and then finally asked the only question she could think of.
"Because it was best for you." She leveled her gaze with Callie, and then explained.
"Yes, Jake did write on your custody agreement that you were to go to Elwood. In his intoxicated stupor, bless his poor soul, he contacted me to make sure it happened. So of course, I had to go to him and make sure you weren't in danger. Your mother, naturally, would have been a help in the matter, but by then she had already disappeared. I suspect foul play was afoot in that back-lot hospital you were born in." Mother Mary shook her head. "But anyhow Calloway, I told your father I would help him get your papers in order."
"You lied to him," Callie said in a small, shocked voice.
"Yes, I did." The Reverend Mother had taken the defensive. "I had to, Callie. When you were born, your father had just been released to indefinite parole. Since your mother's disappearance, Elwood was the only family he had left. I had to remind your father that his brother was still in jail. I told him I would sign myself over as your guardian until such time as Elwood was released, and he agreed. Two weeks later, he died." Mother Mary's expression was still hard, but her eyes had changed. "He never knew I signed in ink. And with that turn of events, I never had to give you over."
Callie sighed shakily, taking it all in. "So…has he ever asked about me?"
"Has who ever asked about you?"
She frowned. "Uncle Elwood."
Mother Mary frowned too, but then chortled. "Not that I'm aware of, dear."
Callie's eyes widened. "He's not dead too, is he?"
Mother Mary sniffed. "Don't be silly. He's most likely rotting in some jail cell, or still playing that ridiculous music and dodging the police like he and your father used to do. The hooligans."
Callie bit back the smile of defiant pride playing at her lips. Best. Family. Ever.
"And it's also unlikely that you ever will hear from him," the Reverend Mother concluded. "I've seen to that. So if you please, please gather up your box. You may return to your room."
Callie stayed where she was. "That's not fair."
Mother Mary sighed, exasperated. "Calloway, you're putting far too much emphasis on this."
"I don't think I am,' Callie snapped.
"I beg your pardon, young lady." Mother Mary had her hand on the pointer, but Callie didn't care.
"All these years, you've lied to me. Hid things from me. Made me think I had no family, that no-one wanted me. Now I find out someone did, and you just laugh and take it away."
"I'm not laughing, Calloway." Mother Mary stood up, her presence all of a sudden foreboding. "Nor should you be. Yes, it's true your circumstances were and are less than favorable but everything that was done was done with your future in mind, young lady. So I'll thank you from now on to be respectful and aware of those who try and help you."
"Yes, Reverend Mother." Callie gathered the suit into the box, followed by the stack of photos. She hesitated on the last one: the shot of her dad and uncle in front of the car.
"He's out there somewhere," Callie said. "I'll find him."
Mother Mary shook her head sadly. "I'm afraid that's not possible, Callie. And even if it were, you'd be setting yourself up for disappointment."
"Why?" Callie asked sharply.
"Your Uncle Elwood doesn't know you exist." Mother Mary patted Callie on the back. "And believe me, it's better for all of us this way."