Authors: Pepper Pace
“No. Everything is not alright.”
“Are you okay?” She asked, her voice rising high in fear.
“Vanessa, you are not going to like what I am about to tell you. But you will not be collecting your trust until you’re twenty-one.”
Vanessa was speechless. She couldn’t even respond because there were so many things that she wanted to say at once.
Her grandmother’s eyes became sympathetic. “I didn’t make this decision lightly-”
Vanessa shook her head. “What decision? You can’t stop me from collecting my money.”
“Vanessa, I want you to take a minute to listen to everything I’m going to tell you.” Vanessa fought back a hysterical response to scream and rant against any idea that she wouldn’t be collecting what her mother had meant for her to have. But she needed to hear exactly what her grandmother had to say and so she clenched her teeth and waited silently for her to explain.
“When you were still a baby, your mother took out a life insurance policy which named me the beneficiary.” Vanessa frowned in confusion at the direction the story was taking. “When she died I … couldn’t stop thinking about how she’d lost her life. To me that money was not something that I wanted possession of. So what I did was I put it in the bank … for you.”
Vanessa’s mouth parted in confusion. Was her grandmother telling her that she had a trust as well as the money from her mother’s life insurance policy?
“When you first came to me you were so lost. I wanted to give you something to focus on, something that would show you that your mother loved you very much-”
“My trust … ” Vanessa whispered.
“There is no trust. Your mother had a savings account with fifty-two hundred dollars in it but that money is long gone.”
Vanessa began to tremble. Her mouth just hung open. “Gone? But … ”
Bertha Mae shook her head. “That money was taken out of your mother’s bank account the same day that we found out about her death. Your mother didn’t have a will and she never talked to me about setting aside money for your college fund. It was you that told me that. When I checked her bank statements I saw that there was money in her savings account but it had been taken out; fifty-two hundred dollars. Once I produced her death certificate and showed the bank that I was the beneficiary of her life insurance I was able to get a copy of the withdrawal slip. It was signed with her name, and dated after her death.”
Vanessa lowered her head into her hands. She felt tears stinging her eyes. She looked up quickly at her grandmother. “Who took the money out of my mother’s account?”
Bertha Mae White leaned forward and stared directly into her granddaughter’s eyes. “Your guess is as good as mine,”
Vanessa blinked and then sat slowly back in her chair.
She changed the house after your mother … you know, Jalissa had said.
The morning that she had been told about her mother’s death, aunt Callista had left with the police to identify her mother’s body. But after doing that … maybe she got possession of mama’s personal effects, her identification. And maybe Callista had gone to the bank and used that identification to make a withdrawal. She didn’t look like her mother but they had some similar qualities …
Bertha Mae continued to talk, her voice quieter but just as firm. “So there is no trust fund. There’s only the money that was left to me; the money that I’m giving to you. When I feel that you’re ready for it.”
Vanessa felt like fainting. Everything in her life had once again gone upside down, and even though her aunt had never fooled her, it destroyed something in her that the woman’s treachery could be so far reaching.
“There is no trust fund.” Vanessa repeated as if trying to absorb the information. Aunt Callista had stolen the money. And her grandmother had sixty thousand dollars that she had promised her for years would come to her on her eighteenth birthday.
Vanessa felt her face drain of color as her blood grew cold. She met her grandmother’s eyes.
“Would you have told me the truth if I hadn’t spent the summer with them, if I hadn’t moved out and told you that I wasn’t going to college.”
Her grandmother sighed. “No. You would have just thought that your mother had left it directly to you. I wouldn’t have told you about the stolen savings. I would have allowed you to … have a relationship with those people. I would have kept that secret.”
Heat stung Vanessa’s eyes and she realized that they were swimming in unshed tears. “Are you punishing me because I didn’t go on to college--because you think I chose them over you?” her voice was soft but accusatory.
Bertha Mae leaned in close her eyes suddenly so much like those of her mother’s.
This is real talk
, her mother had said once upon a time.
“If you are going to control your destiny, then you need to know what and who you are up against. In the perfect world your mama left you sixty thousand dollars-“
Vanessa shook her head in denial and balled her hands into fists as they rested in her lap beneath the table.
“No, that wasn’t my perfect world-“
Her grandmother continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted. “In reality your Mother was robbed by her so-called sister and there was nothing left for you.”
“You didn’t have to make up a trust fund!” she snapped and the first tears spilled down her cheeks. Vanessa covered her face but a second later she refused to give in to her tears and she angrily swiped them away. “As long as I did what you wanted you were going to give me sixty thousand dollars?”
Bertha Mae sighed and leaned back against the rickety kitchen chair. “Your mother had hopes and aspirations. She died before seeing them come true. When she left me that money, she did so knowing that I would use it to help you to become the best person that you could be. She didn’t leave it to her sister, she didn’t make you the beneficiary. She turned it over to me. There were no conditions on the life insurance policy that said ‘when Vanessa turns eighteen give her what remains’. She trusted that I would use that money to make your life as good as possible.
“There is enough money for you to further your education the way you said you always wanted and then more. But there is no money to be used foolishly by a child that can’t see what is right in front of her face.
Vanessa felt anger well up inside of her and boil over. She came to her feet. “I don’t believe you! You are making this up so that …” she couldn’t understand why her grandmother would make this up but it had to be a lie.
Bertha Mae pushed an envelope towards Vanessa. It had been sitting on the table all this time, right next to the fruit bowl, salt and pepper shaker and the afternoon mail. However this envelope couldn’t have been confused with the mail because it was a big manila type envelope with a metal clasp at top, which kept it closed.
Vanessa could see that it wasn’t new. She dropped back down into her chair and reached for it a few seconds after eyeing her grandmother. She opened the clasp and withdrew the contents. It contained a dog-eared copy of her mother’s life insurance policy. Her mother’s checkbook from 1978, a carbon copy of a bank statement that Vanessa couldn’t read because her eyes were so filled with tears. And finally there were the monthly statements from her grandmother’s own bank account, which tracked the interest rate on the insurance money. The top statement showed sixty-three thousand one hundred eighteen dollars and sixty-seven cents.
A fat teardrop plopped onto the document. Vanessa rubbed beneath her eyes, swiping away the unwanted tears.
“You can call the bank. The phone number is there.” Her grandmother said quietly.
“I don’t understand,” Vanessa said in a voice thick with tears. “I just don’t understand.”
“I know this hurts you Vanessa.”
When Vanessa looked at her grandmother she saw that her eyes were also shiny and yet her voice was firm and unyielding.
“It’s not my intent to hurt you. But I cannot in good conscious hand over sixty thousand dollars to you at this time. Not when you are acting so irresponsible-”
Vanessa’s eyes flashed at her hotly. “Irresponsible? I am drug free, I got good grades while in school. I don’t drink or hang out all night. And this summer I decided to spend it away from home and that makes me irresponsible?” she choked out.
“No, little girl!” her grandmother shot back. “What made you irresponsible is the moment you started lying because you thought I couldn’t do anything about it. You knew that you weren’t going to college for a long time before you decided to tell me. You thought you’d turn eighteen, take sixty-thousand dollars and blow it on God knows what. But I’m not going to let that happen-“
Vanessa snorted. “And then when I turn twenty-one you’ll decide that I am still irresponsible, right? And you’ll tell me to wait until I’m twenty-five. Do you think money can manipulate me?”
“Vanessa White!” Her grandmother snapped. “You can be as angry as you like but you will not disrespect me! I know that you’re a good girl and will be a smart and successful adult. One day when I’m sure that you will use the money constructively I will hand it over to you.”
Vanessa covered her face ready to break down into tears but instead she laughed mirthlessly.
“You really think that we’re talking about me wanting your money. It’s like a carrot that you’re going to try and dangle in front of me and I’m not going to take the bait!” She jumped up and rushed out of the room.
“Vanessa!” Her grandmother called.
Ignoring her, Vanessa rushed into her bedroom and began throwing her belongings into a duffle bag. And when that quickly filled up she began tossing her belongings onto the bed. She allowed the tears to flow freely, not actually realizing that she was crying in anger, disappointment and pain at the multiple knife wounds in her back.
“Vanessa,” Grandma said from the doorway. “I know you are hurting, baby girl. But please see that I am not doing this to punish you. There is five thousand dollars that I want you to have as … a birthday gift.”
Vanessa ignored her and rushed out of the bedroom and back to the kitchen where she picked up the telephone and dialed Scotty’s pager. She put in 9-1-1.
She returned to her bedroom and looked around, spotting a picture of her mother that was taped to her mirror. She quickly snatched it up and placed it between the pages of a book, which she quickly deposited to the bed. Her grandmother watched her moving frantically around the room.
The phone rang and Vanessa ran to answer it.
“Scotty!” She cried.
She heard his voice and the tears that she’d tried so hard to hold at bay finally overtook her.
“Baby, what’s wrong!” He was yelling into the phone.
“Come and get me,” she managed to say between sobs. The little control that she’d shown mere moments before disappeared at the sound of Scotty’s voice and now all she could manage were gut wrenching sobs.
Scotty was at one of the pay phones in the University. He’d gotten all the paper work necessary for registration and was waiting in line to speak to one of the admittance secretaries. When he’d gotten Vanessa’s page and saw that it was 9-1-1 he’d walked right out of the registration office.
The sounds of her sobs over the phone sent chills into his bones. He tried to control his breathing in order to stop the panic from taking control of him.
“Vanessa, are you hurt?”
“Scotty, please just come and get me!” She wailed.
“Where are you?”
“At my grandmother’s!” Her voice edged on hysteria.
“I’m on my way!” he slammed the phone down and ran down the corridor.
Several people turned to watch the young man sprinting through the halls of the college campus, and not even one of the Deans thought to tell him not to run in the halls. One look told them that something terrible had happened—or was about to happen once he reached his destination.
Vanessa was sitting on the front porch with her belongings beside her; stuffed into an old duffle bag or gathered into a blanket. She sat rocking, her mind racing with all that her grandmother had told her.
The tears that ran down her cheeks went unnoticed as Vanessa tried to wrap her mind around the fact that her aunt had stolen from her mother. But almost as bad was that her grandmother had seemed to blame her for not knowing.
Thankfully grandma hadn’t followed her outside. When Vanessa had dragged her belongings to the porch she’d left her parting shot; that one day she hoped she’d understand …
Vanessa cradled her head feeling lost, feeling manipulated, but worse feeling stupid. How could grandma let her go living with them knowing what Callista had done?! She should have told her then! How was it her fault that she’d shown love to people that were supposed to be her family? Grandma seemed to think that she should have just hated them because she was told to do so.
And what about Jalissa? She knew her cousin had no knowledge of her mother’s treachery but how much did she hide from Vanessa?
The screech of tires caused her head to jerk up. Scotty’s beamer was idling at the curb and he was out the car and rushing up the walkway. By the time she’d taken two steps to meet him he was already there holding her.
It scared and relieved Scotty when he saw Vanessa sitting on the stoop. When he’d left her hours earlier, she had been nervous yet anxious to visit her grandmother. And now she was a wreck. Locks of long hair had fallen from its ponytail and had plastered to her face and neck. Her face was so swollen from crying that he’d had to cup her face in his palms and examine her to make sure that someone hadn’t struck her.
“Vanessa what happened?” He asked insistently. She was gripping his hands tightly even while they still cupped her face.
“My grandmother said that there is no trust fund. She said … “ she hiccupped and nearly choked. “Aunt Callista stole money out of my mother’s savings account after my mom died!”
Vanessa pressed her face against his chest, gripping him and he held onto her tightly. He looked over her shoulder at her things strewn on the porch and then saw the brown face of a woman watching them from a front window.
Bertha Mae White.
He stroked her hair. “It’s okay baby,” he whispered.
Vanessa pulled back and looked at him with teary eyes. “She has sixty thousand dollars of a life insurance policy that she said she had planned to give to me on my eighteenth birthday but she said that I was too irresponsible.” Her eyes searched his. “Scotty-?”
He kissed her forehead and then hugged her. “It’s okay,” he repeated. “She doesn’t know you, honey. Get in the car.” He led her to the car and helped her in. “I’ll get your things. Is there anything that you want from inside?”
She stared at him as he gently shut the passenger door. “I don’t want anything else.” Her words were bitter.
Scotty hurried back up the walk only to see Vanessa’s grandmother standing on the porch. He picked up the duffle bag and slung it over his shoulder.
“Who are you?” The woman demanded, though her voice was stern she didn’t exactly sound mean. Instantly Scotty disliked her. She’d made his baby cry and that was something he couldn’t forgive.
Scotty pressed his lips together until they formed a firm line in his face.
“My name is Scott Tremont and I’m the man that is engaged to your granddaughter.”
Bertha Mae’s hand rose to her throat. “What did you say?”
So she hadn’t even noticed the diamond ring on Vanessa’s finger, didn’t know that her granddaughter was engaged, in love and didn’t need anything from her anymore.
He gathered the edge of the blanket, which held the remnants of Vanessa’s past; a stuffed bunny with one ear attached by black thread, some clothes and shoes and hair scrunches. He gathered her possessions and carried them to the car where he deposited them into the back seat.
He didn’t spare the woman even one last look.
“I need you to take me to Aunt Callista’s house.” Vanessa said in a voice that was so calm it caused Scotty to take his eyes from the road to look at her. Her face was still swollen but her tears had dried up.
“Do you want to do this now?”
She looked at him with parted lips, her brow gathered and although her expression was lost she nodded her head decisively.
“Oh yes, Scotty. I want to do this right now.”
Oh damn …
When they got to Winton Terrace, Scotty broke his rule not to leave the beamer parked there unattended.
He followed behind Vanessa as she headed for the apartment. This was her party. He would say nothing.
Vanessa rang the bell and Jalissa answered with a smile on her face. It fell away quickly at the sight of her cousin.
“Oh my God, girl … what happened?” Jalissa said taking in Vanessa’s messy hair and tear streaked face. Her eyes met Scotty’s blank expression while Vanessa stared past her swollen body and into the apartment. She brushed past her cousin not seeing her aunt in the living room. Sure enough the woman was in the kitchen where she sat talking on the telephone. Scotty didn’t follow, knew that he wouldn’t need to.
Callista Cornel was on the telephone when Vanessa entered the kitchen. She was gossiping as she usually did. Callista hadn’t seen her niece in nearly a week and when she walked into the kitchen the first thing Callista thought is that that white drug dealer she was always so hugged up with had finally kicked her ass.
Well Callista hoped that she wasn’t coming to her to cry about it-
And then Vanessa snatched the phone out of her hand and held it like a club while she stood over her, glaring.
“I went to collect my trust money but it wasn’t there. You already knew that, right?”
Callista’s face dropped before she came to her feet defiantly.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Oh you dirty trifling bitch.” Vanessa said evenly.
She didn’t see the way Jalissa’s mouth fell open in surprise from where she was standing in the entrance to the kitchen.
Callista’s mouth opened and closed like a fish washed up on shore. Before she could speak Vanessa continued.
“I know what you did. God knows what you did and so does my mother.”
Callista’s face paled and she shook her head in denial although no words came from her mouth.
Jalissa’s voice from behind her was the only response she received.
“Vanessa, what’s going on?”
Vanessa never took her eyes from her aunt. “My mother had a savings account, money she had been saving for us to move out of Garden Hilltop and for me to use for college. Only thing is that after she died your mother withdrew that money-“
“You’re a goddamn lie!” Callista finally found her voice. “Who do you think you are come waltzing into my house-“
Jalissa moved forward, clutching her stomach although she didn’t realize that she was doing it.
Vanessa looked at her cousin while gesturing with the telephone at Callista. She didn’t realize that the other party was getting an earful.
“After my mother died your mother went to the bank and cleaned out her account-“
“You shut your lying mouth!” Callista yelled. “You can’t just walk in here accusing me-“
“You stole from your own dead sister!” Vanessa interrupted with an angry scream. “I know you did it and you know you did it!”
Vanessa turned her attention back to her cousin. “My grandmother showed me a carbon copy of the bank statement and withdrawal slip. It was withdrawn the very same day that the police told us about my mom!”
Jalissa clutched her stomach and shook her head, her face open in silent denial.
“You know that I’m telling the truth Jalissa! You know she came up with some extra money after my mom died!”
Jalissa looked at her mother while still shaking her head. Callista pointed angrily at Vanessa.
“Your grandmother probably took that money!” Callista exclaimed.
“Mama …” Jalissa’s voice was low and her eyes were filled with pain. She looked at Vanessa and she shook her head in denial.
“My mother wouldn’t do that.”
Vanessa watched her cousin in surprise.
“Jalissa, you know that I’m telling the truth.”
Callista interrupted. “You’re a liar Vanessa and if your grandmother told you I did this than she’s a liar too! I never stole-“
“SHUT UP!” Vanessa flashed the woman a withering look before returning her attention back to Jalissa.
“Who do you think you’re talking to!” Callista continued loudly.
Vanessa stared at her cousin, “J, I’m not lying.”
Jalissa closed her eyes. “Vanessa you need to leave.”
Vanessa stared at her cousin in disbelief. “You can’t believe-“
Jalissa’s eyes opened. “That’s my mama …” she appealed.
“Get the fuck up out of my house Vanessa White!” Callista screamed.
Vanessa’s attention returned to the screaming woman. Blue and black sparks began to flash before her eyes as her rage at the woman began to intensify.
“My mother trusted you and you did her wrong. You did me wrong. For that I hope you burn in hell!” Vanessa threw the telephone at her aunt and stormed out of the kitchen. The phone struck Callista in the forehead and the woman clutched her face and wailed.
Jalissa felt the first streak of pain course through her back and across her swollen stomach when Vanessa rushed out of the kitchen and then out the apartment without giving her a second glance. Jalissa didn’t connect it to the labor pain that was so long over-due. She thought it was just the feeling of her soul being sucked from her body.
Scotty’s fingers moved gently over her skin. She had thought at first that she would want to be alone—maybe to cry some more, maybe to smash something. But when they had returned to his apartment Scotty had led her to the bedroom and insisted she lay down. She would have resisted but suddenly she felt so weary and once she had climbed into bed Scotty had followed her, holding her in his arms as she drifted into an exhaustive sleep.
The ringing of the telephone woke them both. Vanessa looked at it suspiciously and Scotty reached over and answered.