Samantha Bradshaw is 25; Serdar Green is 74.
Serdar looked up from the folder of papers, and stared at Samantha. "You researched my son?"
She nodded apologetically. He could have worded it differently. He could have made it sound a little less... stalker-ish.
"I couldn't help it," she said, sitting down. "I mean, Cory told me a little, and Helen told me a little... then she mentioned that something was in the newspaper, and... call it a journalist's curiosity, but - "
"You're a journalist?"
"Why the 'ex'?"
"We weren't talking about me,"she stammered, well aware of how much worse her evasiveness must sound to him now. "All I did was look though old newspapers," she went on. "It was all public knowledge anyway... its not like I hacked into the police computers or anything..."
"Were you planning to do that?" he asked.
"That's not fair," she said.
"Isn't it?" He gestured to the papers.
"Look, there's a reason I'm asking you about this. I know enough that I can't stop thinking about it, but I don't want to do anything that's going to hurt Cory. He told me himself that what happened in his past is well known around here. He was genuinely surprised that I hadn't heard about it. If that's the case, then I could probably fill in the gaps by asking around... but I don't want to stir up things that people have probably forgotten about by now."
"You don't give up easily, do you?"
"No, I don't," she said. "Please... after what you told me about April, I'm all the more curious, too. So much of this reminds me... " she waved a hand at the papers on the table.
He nodded. "That's true. That is probably one of the hardest things, too, at least it was for me." He paused, thinking. "All right," he finally said. "all right, where was I?"
"When April died," she prompted. "You said that Cory was the only one old enough to understand... "
"That's right," he said. "And I don't know how much he did understand, but he changed around that time. When I think back, he changed even before April left. He used to be such a happy, outgoing little boy. Then, around the time the twins were small, he changed. He became quiet, withdrawn. As I said, I don't know how much he understood of what was going on between April and my brother-in-law... maybe it was that, maybe it was the way April neglected them... I don't know. He would never talk about it... the more I tried find out what was wrong, the more he withdrew into himself. It was like I just couldn't reach him.
Eventually I stopped trying. After a while, I think I got so used to this strangely quiet, solitary child, that I forgot he had ever been any other way. Time passed, and he grew into an equally introverted teenager.
By that time, however, I could identify at least one reason for his unhappiness. His eldest step-brother, Dustin.
I had met Brandi not that long after April died. Like me, she was widowed, and raising her three sons alone.
Our relationship progressed quickly, although not everyone was happy about that.
"Did he resent you taking his father's place?" Samantha asked.
"It wasn't even that, really" said Serdar. "Since his father had been gone, he'd taken a lot of responsibility for his younger brothers, and as much as he outwardly resented that, he also took some pride in it, I think. It wasn't that easy for him to let it go, now that he was in a two-parent family again. It probably didn't help that his brothers accepted me so easily, either.
Dustin couldn't take his frustration out on me, so he needed to find another outlet for it.. and Cory, with his quiet, non-confrontational way, was an easy target. It started out with simple teasing...
... and by the time they were in their teens, it had progressed to more physical bullying.
We tried to intervene, but of course any attempt by us to defend Cory was seen by Dustin as further evidence of his weakness, and therefore further fuel for bullying. Cory had to learn to stand up for himself... and eventually he did. It might have seemed like a significant victory at the time, but the way he did it was nothing to celebrate, not at all... "
"Oh, hell... " Samantha muttered, understanding. "That was when he started drinking? As a teenager?"
Serdar nodded. "He said it gave him the courage fight back. But be that as it may, the fights that we saw were really only the tip of the bullying he experienced. The put-downs, the cruel comments, the attacks on his self-esteem... it was a lot harder for him to defend himself against that... He did find that drinking helped him deal with it, though... and before long, he was set in a pattern that would dominate his life for almost the next 20 years.
As for Brandi and I, we had no idea. I mean, what kid doesn't drink a bit around that age? It wasn't anything out of the ordinary at the time. The boys eventually went to college, and we thought the trouble was over. All in all, Cory's college years were quite ordinary. He met Sharla, his first wife, and as far as anyone could see, they had an ordinary uncomplicated romance. He graduated from college with unremarkable grades, married Sharla and settled down back in Richmond. Not long after, Sam was born.
His brothers had their share of dramas, but Cory just got on with things quietly in the background. I should have realized. It's like that thing they tell you on first aid courses, dealing with accident victims or whatever. Always worry about the quiet ones first. Don't worry about the loud ones, they're fighting, they're surviving. It's the quiet ones who are slowly dying while no one notices.
Instead, around this time, Brandi and I decided to move away. The boys had all moved out, and the farmhouse was far too big for just us and Helen. Most of our family had left town, and we did the same. Only Cory and his brother Aaron stayed in Richmond. They got along alright, but they were never that close. Loner that he was, I don't think that I could honestly say that Cory was friends with even his brothers. So despite living only a few blocks away from each other, they rarely spent time together. Not even Aaron really knew what was going on in Cory's life during that period.
From what I heard from Cory himself, things were going well. He had become very good at being evasive at the right times and, superficially at least, things were going well. He and Sharla seemed happy, and she had built up a very successful teaching career. Eventually a second daughter came along.
But under the surface, things were far from good. He had become very good at covering the effects of his drinking, and Sharla helped, too. She was ambitious, and appearances were important to her in that regard. Overall, this is a conservative town. Parents like teachers with solid marriages and nice, ordinary families, and school boards know that. It was probably the only reason she stayed with him for so long. But as the years passed, the sheer effort of keeping the facade intact had turned love to pity, then to resentment, then, I believe, to actual hatred.
She started seeing another man, a teaching colleague who was also married. The relationship had continued, on and off, over several years. If you were to ask her, she'd say she did it because she was lonely, because she needed some reprieve from her unhappy marriage. I don't believe her. I think she did it purely as some kind of revenge against Cory. She could have left him at any time. She choose to stay in their marriage because it suited her career goals, but she wanted to punish him for what he did to that marriage. Cory has always placed a very high value on fidelity, maybe because of what he understood of what happened with April and me. Sharla knew that. She knew the most effective way to hurt him, and she went for it.
I don't know if Cory ever suspected what was going on, but it was getting harder and harder for him to hide the effects of his drinking. I guess the first outward sign of trouble came when he lost a job. Then another. He went through four jobs in a year, although I only found that out some time after it happened. Privately, he and Sharla didn't even pretend to be happy any more. The arguments became more frequent, and more out-of-control. Sam was only a child, but she still remembers being frightened at that time.
During one of these arguments, Sharla finally snapped. She told him everything - about her affair, how long it had been going on, while he was too drunk and stupid to even realize. How much he disgusted her. And she told him that her second daughter wasn't his child. She already had the test results to prove it.
I'm sure you can imagine the effect that had on Cory. That evening, he paid a drunken visit to Sharla's lover and his wife, and needless to say, it didn't go well. Later that night, Aaron bailed him out of jail and heard the whole sorry story - or, at least, as much of it as Cory was willing to offer.
He offered him the spare room for the night. The next morning, Cory said he didn't want to go back home, so Aaron let him stay.
The arrangement was far from ideal. Remember, Cory was still drinking heavily, .and now he didn't even care enough to try to hide it. He had nothing to lose anymore. Even Aaron didn't grasp the depth of the problem at the time, though. He assumed it had started in reaction to the break-up. He had a young family to look out for, and he was uncomfortable with the effect his brother's drunkenness might have on his children.
He banned Cory from drinking in the house, but that only meant that Cory became more secretive. And, when that didn't work, there were plenty of bars and liquor stores. It became a regular feature of their lives over those weeks - Cory stumbling in drunk in the middle of the night, waking everyone up, apologizing, promising to stop... then doing it all over again, the next day.
"Was that how the fire started?" Samantha asked, picking up a couple of the newspaper articles. "Had he been drinking? Most of this stuff is about the fire, although it never mentioned anyone being drunk."
Serdar nodded. "We managed to keep that out of the newspaper reports... all they said was that he fell asleep. Not that people didn't work it out... half the town knew about his drinking anyway, and the other half found out, after what happened that night, and the time after."
Samantha took a breath. The time after. That was the part that she had the most questions about, the most gaps that needed to be filled in. She already knew about the fire, it was all here, in about a half-dozen newspaper reports from Richmond and the surrounding areas. She wanted to tell Serdar to just hurry up and get on to what happened after. But, rather than risk putting him off, she just sat back and let him tell her what he knew of that night, at Aaron's house.
Sorry to leave this hanging, yet again... but it seemed the best idea, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, taking the pictures for this is driving me crazy, but this part is finished so it means I can at least post something to keep the momentum going. Second, somehow the text of (the former) part two has gone over 3500 freaking words!! I know I'm covering over 20 sim-years here, but still... ! So cutting it in half made sense in terms of size, too.
NB - if anyone wonders why its tagged Ruben... that's Sharla's name after her second marriage, I put it there because her family is playable and will eventually have blog entries, so this gives some info on her background if anyone wonders... and I think, given her personality and her family, people are going to wonder :)