Page 54 of Tripping on a Halo

“And watch out for her?” He glanced over at me. “You mentioned … when she was hit by the car, that you were supposed to watch her.”

“Oh.” I fiddled with the edge of my pillowcase. “She developed dementia in the last two or three years. Possibly, she’d had it even longer. It was hard to tell, because she’d always been erratic, so there wasn’t a clear baseline of behavior to judge when she started losing her bearings. But it got to where she was wandering off. She’d leave the water running. Or the stove on. Or try to cook ballpoint pens for dinner. Her insurance provided a night nurse to watch her during the evenings, and Ansley and I would trade off days.” And it had been my day. A Tuesday. My day, and I had been too busy with selfish errands.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring that back up—” He grimaced.

“It’s okay.” I watched as we passed a hitchhiker, his thumb outstretched, a threadbare backpack hitched high on his shoulders. “It’s not like I don’t think about it.”

“You were telling me about HappyTie,” he prompted.

“Yes.” I let out a breath and returned to the story.

When Mom passed, we’d opened up her checkbook to see our situation, in terms of funeral arrangements. To neither of our surprise, the balance was seven hundred and fourteen dollars—which, combined with a thousand of my money, and two thousand from Ansley, barely covered her cremation and burial. Her will, found in the top drawer of her desk, was entertaining. At some point, Mom had thrown away money she didn’t have on a thirty-two-page document, which stipulated that her belongings would be controlled in a trust until her daughters were of ‘intelligent’ age to inherit her estate. We’d glanced around the rundown two-bedroom house that was half paid off and choked back a laugh, tossing the thick document onto the desk and continuing through her files.

We stopped laughing when we found the HappyTie files. There were twelve of them. Three pertained to bank accounts with institutions we had never heard of. Four contained lawsuit titles we were ignorant about. The rest were a collection of trust documents, patents and trademarks.

Mom, it turned out, wasn’t so crazy after all. And HappyTie, despite her curses and impromptu fires, and badmouthing to anyone who would listen… HappyTie had never done her wrong. We sat down on the floor of Mom’s office and read through every page, every bank statement, and then back through the previously tossed-aside will.

And then, as Forrest Gump said, I didn’t have to work anymore.

There was a long silence, the tires thumping against the roadway, a country song ending and then another one beginning. Declan cleared his throat. “You didn’t have to work anymore,” he repeated.

“Nope. I mean, I could. There isn’t a rule against working. I just don’t need to.” Ansley and I had been stunned. A little hurt. Confused as to why we’d spent our childhood taking two-minute showers to reduce the amount of our utility bills. Confused as to why I was paying twelve percent interest on six different student loans when there was enough in these accounts to buy our own university. Had it been to teach us the value of money? Or had she just been too damn stubborn to ever spend a HappyTie dollar?

“So, you’re just never going to work?”

I frowned, his tone similar to Ansley’s and Roger’s, during family dinners, when they’d glare at me across the table and want to know what I’m going to do with my life. “I scrapbook,” I said. “Plus, I haven’t really had time to work anyway, what with everything I’ve been needing to do with you.”

“And what did you do before?”

“I had a work-study at FSU that paid my tuition, and I babysat and waited tables at Ted’s.” I bristled a little, protective of the fact that I do know how to work. Just because I quit work and danced out the door of Ted’s, swinging my apron around my head like a lasso didn’t mean that I was lazy. I’d had a job ever since I was fifteen. Spent every year at FSU working two, sometimes three different ones. Granted, I was twenty-eight, and had the entry-level résumé of a high-school dropout, but our need to watch Mom during the day had prohibited me from having a normal desk job—one that made use of my degrees.

He rubbed his hand over his jaw. “So, when you had those bodyguards in your house, that was serious? You were going to actually hire them and pay for them to protect me?”

“Of course.”

His face tightened, and I struggled to understand his expression.

“I have a lot of money,” I pointed out. “It wouldn’t have been an issue.”

“Yeah, I got that.” He slowed down behind a semi and glanced in the rearview mirror, then over at me. “But, you don’t actually have the money. Not until you’re a certain age, right?”