Home > This Time Around

This Time Around
Author: Tawna Fenske

CHAPTER ONE

“You go ahead. I’m saving room for those currant scones with Devonshire cream.” Allison Ross took a sip of her Earl Grey and used the tip of one French-manicured finger to nudge a plate of dainty tea sandwiches toward her mother.

That’s how it went in her mind, anyway.

In reality, the tea was a can of tepid Diet Coke, the plate was a pile of legal documents, and the cozy tearoom of her childhood memories was now the noisy visiting room of a federal prison.

At least the French manicure was real.

“It’s all right there, Allison,” her mother said, shoving the documents back across the table. “My attorney brought them yesterday when we were working on my appeal.”

Allie looked down to see the papers hadn’t morphed into tea sandwiches or scones or anything else she’d fantasized about since she was a little girl. This was not the life she’d imagined with herself in a starring role as a grownup lady who sipped tea with her mother and red wine with her handsome husband and apple juice with their two adorable children.

It had never occurred to her how many of her youthful fantasies revolved around beverages. It was also possible she was losing it.

“Allison, are you paying attention?”

She snapped her focus back to her mother, who was clad head to toe in prison khaki. “I don’t understand.” Allie blinked back tears as she met her mother’s cool green gaze. “I just had lunch with Grandma last week. She was totally fine! And she’s never said a word about—about—about this.” She gestured to the paperwork, unable to process it any more than she could process the thought that she’d never again see her grandma’s handwriting on a birthday card. Would never hear the story of her own father’s birth, which her grandma had promised to share “someday when you have your own baby, dear.”

“I didn’t even get to say goodbye,” Allie said.

Across the table, Priscilla sighed. “Your grandmother always did know how to make a dramatic exit.”

“But why wouldn’t she have mentioned the B&B? She talked about how she wanted me to have her china and Aunt Gretchen’s wedding rings, but her house?”

“Look, your grandmother was always a little flighty, Allison. And clearly she didn’t realize she was going to drop dead playing mah-jongg at the senior center.”

Allie flinched at her mother’s words, but pressed her lips together to keep from saying anything she’d regret. Her visitation time at SeaTac Federal Detention Center was limited. There was no reason to spend any of it getting hung up on her mom’s insensitive remarks. Priscilla Ross was doing time for orchestrating a Ponzi scheme that had robbed dozens of families of their life savings. Ambivalence to people’s feelings was kind of a given.

But her mother seemed to realize she’d overstepped, because she put her hand over Allie’s and softened her tone. “Look, your grandmother clearly appreciated all the time you spent having lunch with her every week and fixing her hair and running her around to appointments all the time. This was her way of rewarding you for that.”

“But that’s not why I did it!” Allie shook her head and looked down again, feeling her throat tighten at the sight of her mom’s prison-weathered hand covering her own. Of course, Priscilla’s knuckles were still smooth and dainty, and she somehow managed to maintain the perfect French manicure behind bars, so weathered was a relative term.

“I didn’t spend time with Grandma so she’d leave me money or property or anything like that,” Allie continued, swallowing the thick lump in her throat. “I did it because I loved her.”

“Then think of it as the icing on the cake, dear. You know, real estate in the West Hills is very valuable. If you like, I could have my attorney contact some investors about—”

“No.” Allie’s voice came out harsher than she intended, but there was no way she’d let her mom go down that path. She may not have loved the ostentatious bed-and-breakfast her grandma had owned in Portland’s elite, historic neighborhood, but she did love her grandma. It was clear from the paperwork that she’d wanted Allie to have the Rosewood B&B.

“It’s fine, I’ll deal with it,” Allie said. “I haven’t been there since she left those caretakers to run it. I’ll email them to see if I can stop by after work sometime to check things out.”

“Work,” her mother repeated, drawing her hands back and folding them on the table. “Yes, how is that going?”

To an untrained ear, it might have seemed like a pleasant career inquiry. But Allie’s ears had been trained by years of her mom’s disappointment, so the subtext was clear. If you’d finished law school like your father and me, you’d have a distinguished-sounding job title and a fat bank account instead of an eighteen-year-old car and a job you’re stuck explaining to everyone.

Or maybe that was all in Allie’s head, too. It was hard to tell sometimes.

“Three minutes.”

They looked up at a guard wearing a dark-blue uniform and a bored expression. At a table next to them, a woman sniffled and wrapped her arms around an inmate with dandelion-fluff hair who had the same crinkle-edged green eyes as Allie’s grandmother.

Allie took a shaky breath and swung her gaze back to her mother. “Daddy says to tell you hello.”

Priscilla’s expression softened almost imperceptibly, and she twisted her fingers together on the table. “Tell your father Frank’s hoping to get a court date next month and that he should make sure his appeal doesn’t overlap with mine and that he should wear the gray Armani, not the blue one.” She bit her lip. “And also that I love him. And I’m sorry about his mother. Victoria was a lovely woman.”

The sound of her grandmother’s name brought tears to Allie’s eyes, but she nodded and stood up with the paperwork clutched in one arm. “I will.” She wrapped her free arm around her mom’s slender shoulders. “Dad said his lawyer thinks he has a good shot at a reduced sentence for all the time he’s spent helping other prisoners write appeal letters.”

“Hmph.” Priscilla hugged back with surprising warmth, and Allie could have sworn she caught a whiff of Chanel N°5. It was probably Allie’s memory playing tricks again, though it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that Priscilla had found a way to smuggle perfume into a federal prison.

“Writing appeal letters is not how I imagined your father and I using our law degrees,” her mom continued, “but we do the best with what we have.”

“I love you, Mom,” Allie murmured into her mother’s hair. Her mom squeezed tighter, and Allie closed her eyes to breathe her in. “Stay strong.”

Her mom sagged a little against her. “You, too, Allison.”

Before Allie could say more, the guard was herding her out of the room. A familiar numbness inched through her veins as she shuffled through the well-worn ritual of frisking and pat-downs, then the dizzying ride to the airport where she got patted down some more.

It was the most action Allie had seen in a long time.

She stayed dazed for the forty-five-minute flight back to Portland, grateful for the last-minute-fare sale that allowed her to fly this time instead of fighting traffic for four hours between Portland and Seattle. When she’d gotten word on Sunday that her grandma had passed, she’d jumped in the car in her pajamas to make the hour-and-a-half drive to visit her dad. Halfway there, she remembered visiting hours had ended at the penitentiary in Sheridan and she’d have to come back the next day. Preferably not wearing pink flannel pants.

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