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Concessions: The Reckoning

by Deslea R. Judd

The Reckoning cover art by Deslea. Veronica Cartwright as Cassandra Spender, Chris Owens as Jeffrey Spender, Megan Leitch as Samantha Spender.

The Concessions Series (preferred reading order)

See also:

Content Advisory:
This series references incest between consenting adult siblings.


     Concessions: The Reckoning
     by Deslea R. Judd
     Copyright 2002
     
     DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
     ARCHIVE: Sure, just keep my name and headers.
     RATING: R for adult themes.
     CONTENT WARNING: This story references incest between 
     consenting adult siblings. Don't say I didn't warn you.
     SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Pre-XF, spoilers to Closure.
     CATEGORY/KEYWORD: Angst, Cassandra POV, Jeffrey/Samantha.
     SUMMARY: Belongs to the Concessions universe. Why did
     Cassandra make the choice she did? Why did she allow it to
     go on? The answer is darker than the question. This isn't
     exactly an integrated part of Concessions - think of it more
     as a Cassandra backstory.
     FEEDBACK: I'm a VERY tardy correspondent, but I cherish
     every word. And I really do reply, but I take a while.
     deslea@deslea.com
     MORE STORIES: http://fiction.deslea.com
     AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky 2002 eligible.

THE INNOCENCE

Cassandra likes to watch.

Cassandra likes to watch her children. She likes to watch everything from this bedroom window of hers, but she especially likes to watch her children.

There's her son. She tries not to favour one over the other, but she's only human, and Jeffrey was always hers, so he has a special place in her heart. Jeffrey has all of his father's good looks, but none of his weakness and malice. At worst, he has a bit of reserve, a bit of restraint. And that's not really such a bad thing.

And her daughter - lovely Samantha. Cassandra took her in for the money...for the advantages her ex-husband promised their son if she helped him. But however selfish her motives, she has done her best for the girl. And Samantha has grown into such a beautiful woman. A confidante and friend.

Mind you, it isn't only the children she watches. She watches everything. Her paralysis three years ago was a terrible blow, but it has its benefits, as well. Thanks to her insurance, she doesn't have to work. She doesn't have to go out and be in the big bad world with its big bad problems. They aren't well off, but the bills are taken care of. She can sit here in her bed by her window, watching through deceptively transparent drapes, and the world is all there for her consumption - and none of it needs to hurt.

Some would call it pathetic. She knows that. But Cassandra Spender is a pragmatist, and she has no ideals about the nobility of suffering. Suffering is horrible, and needless suffering is stupid. Others can suffer in the name of meaning or fullness of life or whatever ridiculous philosophies they choose to make for themselves, but for her part, Cassandra is happy to be safe and warm in her room, watching the world go by.

She sees the trains come and go, just beyond the back fence. She sees the school children pass over the tracks, heedless of the danger, walking to and from school. Over the hedge, she sees Mr Henderson next door leave for work in the morning. He goes out the back door instead of the front, because he likes to pat the dogs on the way out.

The milkman uses the back door, too. He comes to Mrs Henderson every morning an hour later. Cassandra was cool to Mrs Henderson for a while after that began, but when she noticed Mr Henderson's own late-night comings and goings, she decided that they must both be playing around, and to her mind, that was perfectly fair.

The children try to persuade her to buy another bed. It's true that this one isn't ideal. It takes her the better part of ten minutes to pull herself into it, and she won't let them help her, because she doesn't want them to know just how difficult it is.

But it lines up so beautifully with the window.

Cassandra says no.

Because Cassandra likes to watch.


THE KNOWLEDGE

Samantha is laughing.

Cassandra loves watching her children like this, late at night on the back verandah. They sit out there a lot. Jeffrey comes home from the late shift a bit after midnight, and Samantha waits for him, smoking cigarettes bummed from Cassandra's bag. Cassandra doesn't mind. It's nice that she's there to keep him company at the end of the day.

They probably think she's asleep this late, but she likes to watch. She can't hear what they say - she doesn't try - but she loves the way they look at each other, with shining eyes and smiles. She can't ever remember her brother looking at her like that. She thinks it's sweet, the way they've grown up into such good friends. And truth be told, she feels rather proud to have raised such a harmonious family. Not like those horrible Edison brats across the street. Twins, but you'd never know it, the way they talk to each other.

This night, the children are a little louder than usual. She can see a bottle of wine, and two glasses. That must account for the laughter. Jeffrey is gesticulating broadly. Perhaps imitating some customer at the gas stop. Samantha leans against him, giggling. The wine is more than halfway gone.

The change comes without warning.

One moment, they're sitting there, laughing easily. The next, Jeffrey's face takes on an intensity Cassandra has never seen.

Calmly, confidently, he tugs Samantha into his arms.

She doesn't understand at first. Half-formed, fragmentary explanations are considered and discarded with barely a conscious thought. But when Samantha strokes his cheek with the back of her hand, Jeffrey turns his face and kisses it, and there can be no mistaking the heat in their locked gaze.

She feels very cold.

She flinches when they kiss. "Jeffrey, oh, my God, don't," she whispers when his hands stray to the buttons on Samantha's dress. She feels the way she felt when Jeffrey was six and he very nearly pulled a pot of boiling water off the stove. She wants to go out there and stop them before it can go any further, but even if she could bring herself to move, it's too late, because they've done this before. She sees it in the way he kisses her - so sure of himself, and of her. In the way she touches him, no awkwardness, no hesitation. They touch each other as lovers. Comfortable lovers, who know each other in body and soul.

The knowledge drives a cruel, lancing wound deep in her belly. It creeps out in a leisurely crawl until her whole body is tight and hard. Her hands are trembling.

She watches as they fall back onto the wooden boards. She watches as Jeffrey runs his hand along Samantha's thigh. She turns away when his hand travels higher, beneath her skirt, because there are some things a mother should never have to see, and her son bringing his sister to orgasm is one of them.

She lies there staring at the ceiling. It takes an enormous exercise of will - there's something horribly tantalising about the idea of looking, rather like looking for human remains at the site of a car crash - but she doesn't look. She doesn't look until - a long, long time later - she hears the back door bang shut. She hears their footsteps, and then one of their bedroom doors clicks shut as well - which one, she couldn't say. But definitely only one of them.

She wonders if they are stupid enough to share a bed right under her nose. But then, of course they are, she realises. Jeffrey just bought a double bed, and that should have told her something straight away. Sure, he likes the extra space - who doesn't? - but it had seemed disproportionately extravagant, given his meagre income.

She feels stupid.

Now that the initial shock has passed, she feels, more than anything, incredibly gullible and deceived. Memories wash over her - a hundred sweet family moments that suddenly seem sinister and tainted. How many times did they all sit in front of the television in the dark, Jeffrey and Samantha on the couch while Cassandra sat in her chair? Did they touch each other? Play footsy under the coffee table? Did Samantha's hand ever stray into Jeffrey's lap, and work his fly undone? They are horrible, lurid images, and she can't shift them from her mind. In truth, she doesn't try. She revels in them, nursing her growing sense of rage.

She feels betrayed.

Betrayed by her son, though she can't pinpoint precisely why. Anyway, it doesn't matter, because far more that, she feels betrayed by Samantha. She took that girl in when she had nowhere else to go! She was her ex-husband's bastard daughter by some mistress or other and Cassandra never held it against her. Never said a word against Samantha's mother in her presence. She gave that girl shelter even when the child support dried up.

Samantha's mother. Cassandra's thoughts linger there. No matter what the paperwork says, she still thinks it was that trollop Teena Mulder.

She only met Teena a handful of times, but she remembers a vivacious woman who held Cassandra in barely-concealed contempt. Teena was awfully modern and daring. She wore clothes like Jackie Kennedy's and talked about women's rights while smoking cigarettes in a long, thin holder, while Cassandra stayed home and kept her house nice and knitted booties for her coming baby. Teena thought Cassandra dowdy and backward and provincial, and didn't try very hard to hide it. Eventually, Charles had thought the same. Who could blame him, with a fast woman like that in comparison?

When Teena got pregnant, Cassandra hoped Charles would stay home. She'd had Jeffrey by then, she had her figure back and a maternal glow, and she worked hard to keep herself nice and pretty. She put on makeup and started smoking too, and hoped against hope that Charles would tire of Teena. But he didn't, and finally, when Teena's daughter was born, he left her.

To Cassandra's surprise, Teena stayed with her husband, and in some ways that hurt even more. She was almost as angry for Charles as she was for herself. That manipulative little whore destroyed their lives, while she kept her respectability and her family. It wasn't right. She never let Charles into the house again (I won't confuse Jeffrey like that, Charles) but they stayed lovers on and off for years after. She watched him grow sad and morose and retire to his horrible little room with its typewriter and its TV and its empty bottles of scotch. Just another pathetic victim of the vivacious Teena Mulder.

She looked for the Mulder children in 1972, when she went to the meeting at the air force base with the other families (It's important, Cassandra. Do it for your country. Do it for me) but there was no sign of them. Bill Mulder arrived late, but no Teena, and no children.

Perhaps Teena had left both the men for someone else again. Well, if Teena didn't survive when the aliens helped them outlive the nuclear holocaust, it would be her own fault. Cassandra might be boring, but her loyalty would be repaid.

She thinks now that Charles tracked Teena down, and abducted the younger child. Perhaps he failed to get the older one, or perhaps the older one was Bill's after all. Cassandra never asked and was never told.

She has never spoken of her suspicions to Samantha. After all, if Teena is her mother, better that Samantha be far away from her mother's influence. But blood will tell, she realises now. She should never have let a Mulder girl near her son.

She thinks about Mulder women and Spender men, of their fatal draw to one another. She thinks of Jeffrey. He's so young. Samantha's evil might be her birthright, not her fault, but that doesn't mean Jeffrey needs to be dragged down with her.

She thinks these things, and while she is thinking them, exhaustion drags her down into a light, fitful sleep.


MALICE IN DISGUISE

"Cass?"

Cassandra flinches. Awake at once. Remembering. She turns, and looks at the figure in the bedroom doorway. She doesn't speak. She can't.

"Cass? You're usually up by now. Are you okay?"

She casts an appraising look at Samantha. Looks at her glossy chestnut hair. Her sparkling eyes. How could she have been so blind? How could she have been duped into pitying such a vibrant young girl? How, after a lifetime of disappointments - paralysed, confined - how could she have ever thought this girl was a fellow traveller in pain?

She no longer sees the girl she raised. The girl she loved. She sees a stranger, standing there in the doorway. A manipulative Lolita who came into their home. Seduced her son. She doesn't believe that Samantha cares about her welfare at all. She just hoped for another stolen tryst with Jeffrey before Cassandra woke up.

She forces herself to speak. "I just overslept. I'm fine."

A relieved smile spreads over Samantha's face, but Cassandra no longer trusts it. "Oh, that's all right, then," she says. "Do you want help getting dressed?"

The idea makes Cassandra shudder. As if she would ever, ever let that little slut touch her again.

"No," she says coldly. "I think it's time I started doing that for myself." Samantha looks taken aback. Cassandra grits her teeth and goes on more gently, "After all, it's hardly fair on you and Jeffrey."

"Oh, we don't mind," Samantha says, and to Cassandra, that 'we' seems vaguely sinister. "But it's good that you want to be more independent."

Just like her father, Cassandra thinks. She always makes everything sound so reasonable.

"You go on out, Samantha," she says. "I'll be there shortly." She smiles at the girl.

Smiles til she feels like her face will break in two.


PRELUDE TO THE RECKONING

Shameless.

Just shameless, she thinks, watching them wash up the breakfast dishes. Standing close together, whispering together. Samantha's girlish laugh annoys her. She can't think how she ever thought it charming.

She sees the brightness in Jeffrey's eyes when he looks at her. The coquettish way Samantha smiles back. Just screw on the fucking floor in front of me and be done with it, she feels like screaming at them.

She can't bear it.

She swivels her chair and wheels herself away, leaving her breakfast untouched.


THE RECKONING

Get rid of Samantha.

Get rid of Samantha.

The words run through her mind like a mantra. She wonders how she can do it. How she can make the girl go without it being her fault.

Jeffrey, poor boy, would never understand. But infatuation passes. Once she's gone, he'll see her for the little whore she is soon enough. He'll thank her, one day, when he's married to some nice girl and they have beautiful untainted children. Samantha will be a prostitute somewhere, with needle tracks in her arm. And it will all be her own fault. Cassandra thinks that will be fitting.

She will not let Jeffrey turn out like his father.

Charles. Can he be enlisted to help? Cassandra can't tell him, of course - there is always the chance that he will side with his daughter, if she drags it all out into the open. And what if Samantha says that Jeffrey was the aggressor? The boy could get into a lot of trouble.

But perhaps there are other ways.

She knows the phone is tapped. She is not prone to paranoia, whatever Jeffrey might think, but she knows a double-click when she hears one. And who else does she know that's high enough in the State Department to order it? Cassandra has known for a long time, and she doesn't particularly mind. After all, she knows such dangerous things about the aliens. Of course they want to be sure she doesn't tell some reporter about it. Not that she would. Cassandra loves her country very much.

But she has used that direct line to Charles to her advantage before. When the house was burgled three years ago, she knew it was the Edison twins, but she couldn't prove it. She made a point of saying so to Mrs Henderson over the phone, although she could have done it over the back fence just as easily. A few days later, the Edison's house was raided. The twins only got probation, but they never came near her house again.

She thinks now that she could do something like that again. If Charles finds out about Jeffrey and Samantha through the phone tap, he can never make an issue of it, because he can never tell them that he has them under surveillance.

All he can do is discreetly remove Samantha from their home.

And that would suit Cassandra just fine.


THE FALL

"This is anonymous, isn't it?"

The voice that comes down the line is smooth and reassuring. "Absolutely. The Helpline is funded by a private benevolent society grant. We only ask for your first name, and we destroy our notes at the end of our shift. It's totally confidential."

"Oh, good," she says in reply. "Good."

The counsellor - Laura, her name is - she says gently, "What's wrong, Cassandra?"

Unexpectedly, Cassandra breaks into genuine tears. The counsellor makes sympathetic noises into the phone. Cassandra indulges herself for a few moments - God knows, she needs to let off some tension - but then she gets herself together. She has a job to do, damn it. Time enough for tears later.

"It's my son," she sniffles. "And my stepdaughter. They're both teenagers. Eighteen and nineteen." She clears her throat. "They're-"

"They're what?" Laura prompts.

She hadn't realised how hard it would be to say it.

"Sleeping together," she manages at last. "They're having sex. With each other." The enormity of it threatens to overwhelm her, but she bites her lip and makes herself stay strong.

There is a pause, but only a fleeting one. She supposes a telephone counsellor must have heard worse. Tales of abuse, perhaps. How horrible.

"How did you find out?" Laura asks her.

"I saw them. Late at night. Outside."

The counsellor's next words are unexpected. "What exactly did you see?"

Cassandra frowns. A little affronted. "I don't understand what-"

"Please."

Well, whatever. It would be good to get it out. "He put his arms around her and kissed her. He put his hands under her clothes. He was...touching her. Intimately."

"Did she kiss him back?"

"Oh, yes," she says bitterly.

"Then she consented."

At once, the questions make sense. "Yes!" she says indignantly. "He would never-"

"All right," Laura soothes. "All right, Cassandra, I just had to check on that."

Cassandra is very careful after that. She had failed to take account of the counsellor's agenda, but she won't make that mistake again. Laura asks annoying questions about their family, their home, the children's relationship. Cassandra resists the urge to blame it all on Samantha. Charles wouldn't like that. At last, Laura gets around to what Cassandra really wants to talk about.

"What do you want to do?"

This is the opening she's been waiting for. "Well, the thing is, I think separating them is the answer. I really don't want to make an issue of this. I really think it could do more harm than good. After all, it's not like he's hurting her. But it can't continue." Cassandra sighs dramatically. "I'm thinking of sending her away to college somewhere. I can't really afford it, though. Her father could, but I couldn't ask him. Not without telling him why." She sighs again. "It's all such a terrible mess."

Laura drones on. Yes, separating them would be a good solution. They're young and they sound otherwise well-adjusted and stable. Chances are they'll both come through it with no harm done. Cassandra could give a damn what becomes of Samantha, but she grits her teeth and makes non-committal noises into the phone. She ends the call as fast as she decently can, and she smiles when she hears the double-click on the line.

Samantha goes missing that night.


HIDING FROM THE LIGHT

Cassandra doesn't like to watch any more.

She is prepared for a little melancholy on Jeffrey's part. She is not prepared for his grief.

She watches his weight drop, day by day. His eyes go dull and dark. His footsteps grow slow and forced. She sees him weep late at night on the verandah, where Samantha used to wait for him. Often, she turns away from the window when he comes home, because his heartbreak is more than she can bear.

She finds, against her will, that she misses Samantha. Misses her laugh and the sound of her voice. Misses smoking with her on the verandah. She sits there a lot - on the stoop, not in her chair, even though getting in and out of it is a lot more trouble than it's worth - and she remembers the way Samantha would paint her toenails the way she liked them.

She wonders, reluctantly, what became of Samantha. She assumed at first that it was just another alien abduction - a conveniently-timed one, admittedly. She expected to receive a letter from Charles, offering to put Samantha through school. When Samantha returned, she would accept his kind offer, pack her off to New York or somewhere equally far from April AFB, and that would be the end of it, at least for a few years. And in the meantime she would make sure Jeffrey settled down with some nice girl here.

But none of that had happened. Samantha never returned. It's been five months, and the longest Cassandra herself ever went missing was four.

It occurs to Cassandra that no matter where she is taken, she is always returned to her home. She supposes that makes sense. It wouldn't do for her to be found disorientated. She might talk about what she knows. Other abductees know little, but she knows a lot. Even Dr Werber has no idea how much she really knows. Cassandra will never tell, for she loves her country very much.

Samantha knows very little, but she is always returned home as well. For that, Cassandra has no explanation, but she suspects the aliens take a little more care with the government families than with other abductees. Charles is small fry in the scheme of things, but she knows he kicked up a terrible stink the time Samantha was returned to a hospital when she was fourteen. He told her all about it. It was just as well the nurse watching her was drunk, or they would have had to fight the authorities for her. Cassandra thinks now that there may have been repercussions in the State Department for that little episode.

But what if the aliens know that Samantha no longer has a home here? What if Charles isn't the only one who knows what she says on the phone? Cassandra has only a vague idea of how the internal structures of the State Department work, but she knows the aliens can do whatever they please. After all, they have the keys to human survival, and they're sharing what they know. Not even a bureaucrat could argue with that.

But then, what will they do with her, if they aren't going to send her home? Test her indefinitely? The thought sends a chill through her. She acknowledges the need for the tests, even when they hurt, but the idea of anyone being in them indefinitely -

It isn't her problem, she thinks. Samantha will probably be abandoned on a roadside somewhere, just like any other abductee, and she knows enough to look for a MUFON group. They'll look after her. She'll be fine.

She'll be just fine.


THE AWAKENING

"I want to call the police."

It is a tired refrain, and Cassandra's response is tireder still. "Samantha goes away all the time, Jeffrey. She'll come home when she's ready." She bypasses the whole debate about whether Samantha 'goes away' or 'is abducted'. She really isn't up to it tonight. And she doesn't like to antagonise Jeffrey any more than she needs to right now. His torment seems to be growing with every passing day.

"But what if you're wrong?" he insists. "What if it isn't just Samantha going away like she always does?"

She looks at him, frowning. This is a new addendum to an old argument. "What do you mean?" she wonders, curious in spite of her exhaustion.

His expression is haunted. "What if she got pregnant or something?" he demands. There's tension in the lines of his jaw. "What if she got scared and - and ran away to have it?"

The blood drains from her face. She knows what they do to pregnant women in the tests. She asks, deathly quiet, "Was she pregnant, Jeffrey?"

"No!" he says hotly. Then, seeing her worried look, he calms himself. He says with a control that is visibly forced, "I mean, I don't know. I'm just saying. What if one of these times it's not what you think it is? And we didn't look?"

She begins to tremble.

What if she is wrong? What if Samantha heard her on the phone, and ran away? Or what if Jeffrey's right, and she was pregnant? Terrible images rise in her mind. An illegal abortion. Samantha bleeding to death in an alleyway. "You didn't look, Cass. You wanted me gone, and you didn't look."

She lifts one shaking hand to her mouth.

Oh, my God. What have I done?

"What?"

Jeffrey is frowning at her. She wasn't aware of speaking the words aloud. She finds her voice. "I said - I said we can't go to the police, Jeffrey. We just can't."

He slams his fist down on the table. She flinches. "Why not?" he bursts out. "Why won't you?"

She feels trapped. Jeffrey is pushing her to thoughts only half-articulated in her mind, and they scare the hell out of her. She says urgently, "Jeffrey, who falls under suspicion when a pretty girl goes missing?"

He stares at her. "The boyfriend," he says. "But Samantha didn't have a-"

He stops. He goes pale. He stares at her. Understanding the danger. Wondering what she knows.

"No, she didn't have a boyfriend," she says deliberately. "But the people closest to her. You and me, for instance. Innocent things can seem not so innocent when the police are involved."

"What sorts of things?"

"Anything," she says. "Anything secret."

"You think she had secrets?" He sounds nervous - so nervous that she thinks she would recognise it even if she didn't know he had anything to be nervous about.

"From me?" she says with studied carelessness. "Of course she did. Show me a teenager who doesn't."

"I don't have secrets," he says without a blush.

She arches her eyebrows, but bites back the retort that springs to her lips. "Jeffrey," she says harshly, "I want you to promise me you won't go to the police."

"I promise," he says readily. His eyelids flicker.

Cassandra doesn't believe him.


THE PRICE OF KNOWLEDGE

She wonders what evidence Samantha left behind.

Diaries. Letters. Trace evidence on the sheets, maybe. She's avoided Samantha's room since she went missing, but she realises now that she has to go in there. Just in case Jeffrey goes and does something stupid behind her back.

She begins with the sheets, and she is heartily thankful that they're clean. She washes them anyway, in hot soapy water. There are tests now. They're starting to use them in criminal cases.

She searches Samantha's desk after that. No letters, thank God, but she makes one discovery that makes her blood run cold. A piece of notepaper, and Jeffrey's handwriting: "California penal code S.285. State prison. Doesn't say how long. Still illegal even w/consent/age." Cassandra crumples it tightly in her hand. She will burn it and turn the ashes down the sink.

She finds Samantha's diary minutes later.

Her heart sinks when she sees it. She doesn't want to read it. But too much is at stake for her to indulge her sensibilities now.

When she picks it up, it opens in a strange way in her hands. After a moment, she sees why. There are pages ripped out - a good number of them.

Cassandra stares at the tattered remains of the spine, wondering whether Jeffrey did it in a bid to get rid of the evidence against him. She wonders whether that means he does intend to go to the police behind her back after all. Why didn't the stupid boy take the whole book, she wonders? Doesn't he know that this will only make it look worse?

But the entry where the ripped pages stop is enlightening.

"I've torn out some of my entries. I hate to do it. They mean so much to me. But we went to the library and we looked up the books, and it seems we could go to prison. I kind of knew it was against the law - but still, prison? For loving each other?"

The remaining entries are superficial.

She thanks God for that entry. It won't incriminate Jeffrey if he isn't already suspected, but it could save his life if he is. Clearly, Samantha destroyed the evidence herself. If, God forbid, Samantha's body were found and Jeffrey were identified as a suspect, at least this would indicate that she had been a willing partner.

She decides to keep the diary.

She scans the rest of it. There is one intimate entry - half of one, that is. The first half is gone. It doesn't mention any names, so clearly Samantha felt it was safe to keep it. It is explicit - more explicit than she wants it to be, at least - but Cassandra forces herself to read it anyway. Fragments leap out at her. They are heartbreaking in their childish simplicity.

"When he touched me, everything I'd ever been afraid of just seemed to disappear. I wasn't even scared of the pain any more. He was scared of hurting me, but I wasn't. I knew he wouldn't hurt me. I just knew."

Cassandra feels tears rising in her throat, and she doesn't know why.

"I thought I would feel different when I wasn't a virgin any more. More grown up, or something. But I don't. I realise now how little I know and understand. I still feel like a kid, and I feel stupid for thinking I was anything else. But then I look at him and I see that it doesn't matter that we're still fumbling and finding our way, because we have each other, and that's enough."

Racking sobs arise in her from nowhere. The diary slips from her hands.

It's like ripping away a curtain. Like breaking up through water into the air. The final vestiges of the fever-panic of the last six months fall away, and Cassandra understands the terrible destruction she has wrought.

There was no Lolita. There was only the girl she raised - the frightened child who grew into a frightened woman before her eyes, and who fell in love with the only friend she ever had.

And Cassandra had cast her away.

Cassandra weeps, hard and harsh until her throat and her eyes are raw. "I had it all wrong," she rasps out to the empty room. "Dear God, I had it all wrong."

She prays. Prays for forgiveness. For Samantha's return. She'll do anything, she swears. Anything. She'll let them be together. Anything.

Please, God, just bring her home.


RESTITUTION

She knows what she has to do.

"Parents Helpline, this is Laura."

She drove her daughter away. She didn't mean to. And now she wishes she could have her home. Laura drones on about survivor guilt and making peace and moving on. Cassandra doesn't listen.

She listens for the double-click at the end of the call.

END


AUTHOR'S NOTES (OF THE LITERARY AND PERSONAL VARIETY):

This is a strange one. It all started with someone's feedback (Christy, I think) to Concessions Made. (Yes, I know, I still haven't replied to people for that one. I love you all so much, and I want to reply. I'm just not very good at making psychic space, you know? I think I've never really gotten very good at accepting kind words. Terrible failing. I'm sorry.)

Anyway. Christy, or whoever, said that she could accept Cassandra's decision to allow the affair to continue, but she didn't completely understand why she did it. Samantha herself didn't understand why, and it was her POV, so it didn't really matter for the purposes of that story. But the comment nagged at me, and it occurred to me that I probably hadn't done Cassandra's POV justice. Because of the limits of Samantha's and Jeffrey's POV in Concessions Made and Concessions Broken, we saw Cassandra on a very quick trip through shock and acceptance, and ultimately a rather surprising level of acceptance of an enduring incestuous relationship between her children five years on. But we never saw the inner struggle that led her to that point.

So that was how it began. I visualised a situation where Cassandra knew earlier, and was deeply unhappy about the situation, but said nothing. Then Samantha was abducted, and her grief for Samantha during her unusually long absence led Cassandra to make a kind of bargain with God. She would let the relationship continue, she would let Samantha be happy, if only Samantha would come home. She was shocked to find herself confronted with having to live up to that promise - by that point, like Jeffrey, she had all but accepted that Samantha was dead - but she was prepared, with some misgivings, to do so. That all fitted in with the magical thinking displayed by Patient X-Cassandra, all a-twitter about alien benevolence towards humanity.

But when I began to write, I was taken completely by surprise. A heap of anger came out of Cassandra, seemingly from nowhere. I hadn't planned it. It just seemed to flow (and, I might add, rather more venomously than we see in the final cut). I roughed it out, then did some research before I came back to clean it up, and it turned out that her anger was consistent with real life experiences. Apparently when bystanders find out about an incestuous relationship, even when there is no victim (as with Jeffrey and Samantha), bystanders often turn one or other partner into a victim in their own minds in order to make sense of it. Well, colour me surprised. Guess I got deeper into the characters and situation than even I had suspected. I'm glad it turned out that way, though. This is the dark side of incest and its impact on a family, and that deserves a voice as well, despite my love and sympathy for Jeffrey and Samantha.

So that's how muddle-headed, well-meaning Cassandra turned calculating and malicious (however briefly). And when I considered Two Fathers/One Son Cassandra, with her pragmatism and surprising steel, it seemed that this could work after all. I'll admit to some misgivings about the characterisation just the same. But it seems to me that "Cassandra Spender" and "Cassandra Spender, who just found out her kids are sleeping together" might be very different species. So I kind of gave myself the benefit of the doubt and went with it.

The scene headings are allusions to the story of the Fall. The watershed moment where Cassandra understands what she has done, and particularly her shame in the face of Samantha's humanity is consciously mirrored on a Catholic theology of Purgatory - the intermingled love, shame, and redemption of seeing ourselves in all our weakness and frailty in the face of the ultimate goodness of God. In a looser way, I modelled Cassandra's whole spiritual journey (from light to darkness to light) on those sorts of archetypal ideas. I didn't intend it to be a religiously-laden piece (and I don't think it reads as one), but just the same, I can see the seeds of a Pauline/Thomistic theory of human development lurking there in the background. Who says a background in theology doesn't have any application to real life? g

So that's how it all happened. I have my doubts about posting it simply because I fear its darkness detracts from the beauty of the Concessions universe. But it is, at least, honest. I am working on a long prelude to these stories - Jeffrey and Samantha's take on the early years (and I promise, it's a gentler read than this one). No idea when it will be finished. My Krycek/Marita readers will lynch me if I don't turn out another Enigma chapter soon. But it'll happen. Meantime, thank you all for your love and support along the way, and I'm sorry I'm sometimes an uncommunicative dolt, but it means the world to me. Thanks as always to Kristen, Rachel, and my LJ buddies for being sounding boards along the way, and Fiona J, this is for you. Rest in peace, my dear friend.


AUTHOR'S NOTES (OF THE FACTOID/PICKY VARIETY):

  1. Section 285 of the California Penal Code does indeed pertain to incest at the time of writing. The reference could well have been different in 1982, but I wasn't able to find the text for the laws current at that time. I chose California on the assumption that they still lived on April Base, CA, as in Closure, and that they didn't go to Alabama until Cassandra's decision that they should "start fresh" in Concessions Made.
  2. Did Cassandra's actions make one bit of difference? I think they did. In this universe, although Cassandra is quite wrong about many things (not least of them being the part Charles (CGB Spender) has in the big scheme of things - and can't you just see her dismissing her slightly pathetic ex-husband as small fry?) I think she is quite correct in that he cares for her well-being and Jeffrey's, and that he does what he can for her within the limitations of the Project. I think that ultimately he cared more for her than for Teena, albeit with far less passion. But whether or not she really had any control over any of it is pretty much irrelevant. Just the possibility that she might have was enough, within her muddled mindset.
  3. Where was Samantha during those six months? That, dear reader, is a question you'll have to answer for yourself.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Deslea R. Judd

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