Once I got a clean bill of health from the doctor I was finally able to go out with Izzy and Aunt Leni. It sucks that I got better on our last night in Windenburg but since we were leaving tomorrow afternoon and it would be my first opportunity to hang out with Aunt Leni outside of her house I didn’t want to let it waste. We went to a bar called The Narwhal Arms that was featuring a DJ that Izzy was a fan of. I was hoping we could spend our last night having a nice dinner and maybe going for a walk around town since I’m not fond of bars and nightclubs. The last time I was here Izzy and I snuck out to a nightclub and I ended up getting drunk off of one drink. The experience soured partying on a whole for me. However, I was having a pretty good time once the music started playing.
“Come on Vee, you have to try this Wutaheftabir!”
“No thanks. I’m good.”
“It’s really good. Trust me, you won’t get drunk at all from just one drink.”
“That’s exactly what happened the last time!” I laughed.
“That drink was too strong that’s why you couldn’t handle it but this one is kinda mild. You’ll like it. Besides, we won’t let anything happen to you anyway. You’re safe with me and Aunt Leni. If it looks like you’ve had too much I’ll stop you.”
“I don’t know…”
“You shouldn’t force her to have it if she doesn’t want to.” Aunt Leni added. “You’re at least having a good time, right?” She asked me.
“I am.” I’m glad she stood up for me because knowing my sister, she would have persisted until I eventually gave in.
Isabel shrugged and walked back to the dance floor with her drink in one hand and her other hand fist pumping into the air as the DJ continued his set.
“You and Mum probably did stuff like this all the time, right Aunt Leni?”
“Uh…no…we didn’t. Your mother and I never really had anything in common.” She suddenly seemed very uncomfortable after I brought up Mum. I knew she and Mum were estranged but I didn’t know the reason for it. Dad never told us but he did make sure to let us know not to bring up Aunt Leni around Mum so I never had the opportunity to find out from her what really happened between the two of them.
“There’s something I want to ask you Aunt Leni.”
“Sure, what is it?”
“What happened between you and Mum? Why didn’t the two of you talk for so long? And why did you never reach out to us before now…now that Mum is gone?”
“It’s a really long story, one I don’t really want to get into right now.”
“I get it but…well…I remember having very fond memories of you as a kid but then you disappeared shortly after Mum went to jail. We never heard from you again until now. Honestly, it made me a little suspicious of you.”
“I don’t have any bad intentions, Ivy. I only want a relationship with my nieces.”
“So, why couldn’t you have that before?”
“Because of your mother…she… I needed to stay away from her.”
“But why? Tell me, please.”
She sighed. “I promise I’ll tell you the truth before you leave tomorrow. Okay? Just, let’s enjoy tonight.”
Based on her reaction I knew it had to be something bad. For me, there was no way I could go on for years not talking to either one of my sisters so I could not imagine what could have happened that would make them estranged.
As promised, the following morning she took me up to the patio so we could talk in private. Kirsten went out with Uncle Ayden and Isabel was still sleeping off her hangover leaving us with uninterrupted time together as if the story was so bad she couldn’t bear for anyone else to overhear which served to make me worry about what she was going to say.
“Ivy, I know I promised I would tell you about what happened between Gemma and me but are you sure you really want to know?”
“Yes, I want to know.”
“I need you to think about this. She’s your mother and I know you love her and think the world of her. I don’t want to ruin the good image you have of her. This is not why I brought you and your sister here.”
“You keep saying you want a relationship with us so if we’re going to have a relationship then you have to tell me why you stayed away for so long and why you said you needed to stay away from Mum.”
“Since you insist, here goes. Gemma and I never got along even as children. Sure, we had moments when we could talk without arguing or play without fighting but for the most part, it was like we were enemies. She hated me. She hated me since the day I was born because that was the day our father went on the run from his crimes. She didn’t understand it at the time but she knew he was gone and assumed it was because of me.”
“Wait a minute…our grandfather was a criminal?” This was news to me. The way Mum spoke about her father those few times she made it seem like he was a regular business man.
“You didn’t know? He was the worst kind. He didn’t just steal, he assaulted and killed people. He was a very bad man but in spite of that he loved my mother and I guess he also loved us as well. Gemma adored him and emulated him even as an adult. He was the reason for her getting into laundering.”
“So he’s the reason why she went to jail? Did he rat on her?”
“No,” she took a deep breath. “I ratted on her. I was the reason why she ended up in prison.”
“You? Seriously?” I was in shock. Aunt Leni was the one who sent Mum to jail! “So that’s why you left town when she was arrested and never came back. You were afraid to face her.”
“I was but not because I felt bad about what I did. She deserved to be punished for her crimes.”
“Yeah, but, she’s your sister. Didn’t you feel a little bad for sending her to prison? Maybe you could have reasoned with her and get her to stop?”
“Gemma was not someone you could reason with. Like I said, she deserved it and if I had to do over again I would have.”
“I don’t understand how you can seem so nice but then act so cold talking about her.”
“You don’t know all the things she did otherwise you’d understand.”
Aunt Leni then proceeded to tell me about all of Mum’s crimes starting with her. How Mum poisoned her when they were teenagers using a mushroom that made Aunt Leni insane just so she could win the legacy over her. How she over exaggerated Aunt Leni’s illness to Uncle Ayden so they would break up just because Mum didn’t want Aunt Leni to get married before her. She told me about how Mum manipulated Dad into thinking she was no longer laundering when she was actually the Don of my grandfather’s gang. She told me that Mum ordered several hits on people she perceived as threats to her business. She killed a detective my grandmother was mentoring just to prevent him from exposing her involvement in my grandfather’s gang. When my grandmother learned the truth she told Aunt Leni everything but she died before she could expose Mum herself. Aunt Leni then took it upon herself to gather evidence against Mum.
“She really did all that stuff?” I asked, hopeful she would say she was pulling my leg and it was all made up.
“She did. And even after getting caught she was still too clever to go down for all of her crimes. She was only convicted of the laundering because the evidence was already turned over to the Feds but for the other charges like murder and being in a gang she got away because the only witness to testify against her died before he made it to the court. His name was Gunnar. He wanted out of that life and when the prosecution offered him immunity for his testimony he was relieved to finally have the chance to be able to do the right thing and start his life anew. But then he was killed, he and that Federal Agent who was with him in the safe house. Those poor men died because she wanted to weasel her way out of jail time.”
“You think Mum had something to do with that?”
“I know she did! She had him killed while she was sitting in her cell and for many years, I felt guilty for convincing him to help me against her. Maybe he would still be alive. Gunnar wasn’t a bad person… he just made some bad decisions. And that agent… he had a family!”
Aunt Leni started crying and her tears filled me with empathy but also rage towards my mother for ruining so many lives including my Aunt’s.
“There’s a reason why Ayden and I moved out to this island. Some years ago she came to see me back when I lived on the mainland. You were all on a family vacation then.”
“Wait a minute… you guys saw each other the last time we were here?”
“Yes. She showed up at my doorstep and we fought and then she threatened my life, Ayden’s and Kirsten who was only a baby at the time. If your father didn’t show up and stand up for me… I probably wouldn’t be here talking to you now. She was seething! She wanted revenge and I knew she wasn’t joking. Sister or not, she would have killed me without giving it a second thought. I think her fear of losing your father and you girls is what stopped her from coming after me but we didn’t want to take any chances so we moved out here where it’s safer.”
I started to feel lightheaded from all the information I was receiving. I knew my mother was no saint. I knew she did something bad and that was why she ended up in jail but what I didn’t know was that she was capable of doing such despicable things!
“Aunt Leni… I don’t know… I’m sorry!”
“What? No! Don’t be sorry Ivy. This is not your fault. She did all these things, not you. You are way different from her, you and your sisters. I know it’s terrible to hear all of this but this revelation does not change who you are! You are still the same amazing young woman you always were.”
“But it changes everything I believed about her. I don’t know how I feel about her now, knowing what I know. And why didn’t Dad say anything? He knew the story so why didn’t he tell us the truth.”
“Zachary wanted to protect you girls. He was only doing what he thought was best. As a parent, I can speak to that. If we can spare our children any unnecessary pain or hurt we will even if it means we have to lie to you, because at the end of the day your happiness is everything.”
“He should have told us who she really was.” I said.
“I don’t think your father knew it all. Even to this day I’m sure he still believed her when she said she never killed anyone because he loved her so much and wanted to believe she was good. What good would that have done if he told you the truth about your mother? You would have hated her, resented her, and then those last happy years you had with her would not have been the way it was. I’m not defending her, but the one saving grace when it came to Gemma was how much she loved her girls. Just like I know my Dad loved me in spite of how much a bad person he was. We don’t get to choose our parents Ivy but we do get to learn from their mistakes. It’s the reason why I make sure to continue therapy and take my medicines on time so I won’t ever lose control of myself around my daughter. I want to be the best parent I can possibly be because I want her to know that she is loved and safe and always comes first. And you should learn from Gemma’s mistakes that actions have consequences and you should always do what’s best for those around you and not think about yourself all the time.”
After our talk, I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. I had just learned some harsh truths about Mum and it stung hard. In a weird way, I felt like she betrayed me by pretending to be this changed person for so long when she was still the same as always. She tried to kill Aunt Leni and her family after she got out of prison and while we were on family vacation no less! I started thinking the only reason why we came to Windenburg on that trip was so she could have her revenge without drawing too much suspicion to herself.
You know that feeling you have when you learn Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are not real? A little sadness and disappointment? Yeah, that’s how I feel only it’s ten times worse because this was no fictional gift bringer, this was my mother! I admired her. I looked up to her. I loved her! And she was so terrible to so many people! The shadow she’s cast is dark and looming and I feel like it’s hanging over me and now I wonder how I’m going to get myself out from under it. Am I being too paranoid for wondering if someday her bad deeds will come back to bite me in the butt?