The memory made Charlotte’s blood heat up, her hands shaking the papers they clutched.
“Here we go again,” Amelia continued, “Why don’t you tell me how bad of a foster mother I am one more time, and so soon after his death. Why don’t you just rub it in my face.”
Now her blood was boiling, the sting of holding back tears caused her to look up at the darkening sky for an escape. “I don’t have to tell you! You already know you treated him, and me, like garbage! All he wanted was a little acceptance from you. He didn’t even ask for love, just acceptance. Was it so hard to ask that from the woman who raised him for eight years?”
“All he wanted to do was mess around with little girls,” she spat through clenched teeth, her eyes not leaving the surface of the rippling water. Charlotte gasped.
These arguments were nothing new. In fact Brody had endured them quite often over the two and a half years they were together. Charlotte never understood why he wanted them to spend so much time together, but she guessed it was because he was hoping it would bring her closer somehow. At night when they would get into bed after a day with Amelia, she would ask why despite feeling sorry for him. He would smile with his beautiful straight, white teeth and say, “It will get better.”
After momentarily being shocked by her words, she returned with, “We both know you fostered kids for the checks, so don’t act all high and mighty with me. If he learned anything from you, it was how to not be a sociopath. Brody was perfect, and don’t you dare say anything bad about him.” She choked back a sob, catching it in her throat. The warm tears, however, were now welcome to wet her cheeks.
“Don’t you presume to tell me what kind of man Brody was, I raised him.” Here was her self-righteous speech. “That boy had nothing but a drunk daddy and a dead mother when they gave him to me. Did he not go to college? Did he not have a great career in finance when you met him? Do you think he would have anything like that if it wasn’t for me?”
She had a point, she always did. As sad stories go, Brody was doomed either way.
“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” her voice shook as she spoke the words.
The image of their wedding day came back to her. It was an intimate party in a friend’s backyard garden. The sweet scent of jasmine and lilac came back to her; the rich, creamy vanilla wedding cake with silver shooting stars soaring across it. It was supposed to be the happiest day of her life, but Amelia had found a way to ruin that too. In her attempt to show her disapproval of the marriage, she successfully talked twelve guests, including herself, into not attending the wedding. Twelve people at their modest wedding was nearly half. Despite the overwhelming happiness of being married to a man she loved, Charlotte could not shake the sadness she felt inside for him. The eleven other guests did not need to show up. If only she could have loved or cared enough to be there, that would have made all the difference. Brody shrugged it off with a smile like he always did.
Amelia’s voice, worse than nails on a chalk board, brought her out of her reverie. “Is that why you brought me here? To tell me how bad of a foster mother I was? Well you can save your breath.”
“No,” Charlotte began unfolding the papers she had brought with her. They were wrinkled from being gripped in her fist. “The night Brody died he was coming home from your house.”
“I know that,” she snapped.
Charlotte continued without notice, “What did you guys talk about?”
The paper trembled in her hands as Amelia answered, “Not that its any of your business, but he came over like he always did on Wednesdays to bring me my weekly lottery ticket, and we chatted a bit. He told me he was thinking about the two of you having a child in the next year, and he wanted to know if you had a girl if it would be alright to name her after me.”
“And what did you say?” She asked in a barely audible voice even though she already knew the answer.
“I said I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that considering I’m not his real mother and all.”
It was like the cold hands of the shadows surrounding them had buried themselves deep inside Charlotte’s chest, wrapping around her heart and lungs, constricting her from breathing. One of her hands let go of the paper to cover her mouth, silencing a sob. That must have killed Brody. No, it did kill Brody.
She handed the papers over to Amelia. She looked it over, “What’s this?”
The top of the paper read: Notice of Traffic Violation.
“The police came across this piece of evidence. They came around my house yesterday at noon to discuss it.”
“Evidence?” The surprise in Amelia’s voice was pleasing to the ear. The ticket on one side gave notice of the violation of running a red light, the information of the car, and how much the ticket was for. On the other side were four pictures of the car. Two of it sitting at the light, one of it driving, and the last one was it flipped over. “We know he ran a red light. That’s nothing new.”
“Look at the time in the corner of each picture.” Tears were now streaming down her raw cheeks like they had been for weeks.
Amelia studied the time of each of the pictures but didn’t seem the grasp what the revelation was. Charlotte took in a shaky break of the cooling air. The sun had officially begun setting, and with it came the sounds of crickets around the pond. They replaced the sound of the children playing in the distance, who seemed to have left some time in the conversation.
“Brody had stopped at the red light,” she explained, giving Amelia a gaze that was Arctic cold. “The car was stopped for almost fifteen seconds before he drove into speeding traffic. He did it on purpose. The police came over to inform me that the cause of death is being changed to ‘suicide’.”
With each word, Charlotte could see a little piece of Amelia being torn apart from the inside. Immense tears poured down her mother-in-law’s face like an unstoppable waterfall. One hand clutched the front of her blouse while the other held the paper close to her face. She was crying, sobbing, weeping uncontrollably, just like Charlotte hoped she would. Charlotte made no move to comfort her in any way. They just sat there, far apart from one another.
“What,” Amelia break in between sobs, “What do we do?”
Charlotte reached over, yanking the papers out of her hand. “There is no ‘we’. There never was.”
She stood up while wiping her cheeks, leaving the old woman to sit in her regret. For the first time in weeks, she walked home with a smile on her face.