Written By: Mel
Dedication: To Jodie on the occasion of your site’s fourth anniversary. A million thank-you’s for hosting my stories on your wonderful site. You are one in a billion, my friend.
“Your two o’clock appointment is here, Sir,” said the voice of my secretary over the intercom.
I looked up from the report I was reading and fumbled for the correct button to send a reply. My office is large and plush; all the finest furnishings money can buy. The cost of the desk alone would buy an average family car. It’s a far cry from my little cubical in the town planning office. So much in my life has changed these last few months.
It all began on a cold morning last March. Eric was out of town on a business trip and I was just getting ready for work when the front door bell rang. Dressed in my trousers and shirt, and barefooted, I opened the door to find two serious looking men dressed in long woollen coats standing on my porch.
“Is this the home of Mister Reginald Smithaven-Johnson?” one of the men asked.
I suddenly felt very nervous. “That’s me, can I help you?”
“I’m Sergeant Williams and this is Sergeant Barsky; we’re from the O.P.P.* May we come in?” The two men flashed their I.D.
“Yes, of course.” As I ushered them into the house, a sense of foreboding grew rapidly in my gut. I showed them to the living room and the two police officers sat on the sofa while I took a seat in the chair across from them.
“Sir, are you the son of Edward and Elizabeth Smithaven-Johnson and brother to Edward Junior and his wife, Lucinda?” Sergeant Williams asked.
“Yes,” I replied, feeling my stomach clench.
“Sir, we regret to inform you that your parents, your brother and his wife were the victims of a motor vehicle accident on Dufferin Road in King Township at approximately one-thirty a.m. this morning. From what we can ascertain, the vehicle driven by your brother slid off the road over a steep embankment. The car rolled several times before coming to a stop in the valley below. I’m sorry, sir, but there were no survivors.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. Had I not been sitting, I’m sure I’d have fallen. I don’t recall with any detail what happened next. I know they asked me if anyone was home with me or if they could call anyone; my wife perhaps? I remember telling them I had no wife and that I needed to reach my partner.
Eric’s cell phone went straight to voice mail as he had it turned off during a meeting. Somehow I managed to reach my best friend, Cecily, and she arrived at the house within minutes of my call. She held me together and kept me sane as we tried to reach Eric. It took over an hour to find him and of course he was terribly distressed at being away when I needed him. We talked for a while on the phone and he promised to be on the next flight home. Three hours later, Eric was holding me in his arms and assuring me that we would get through this together.
Making funeral arrangements was a nightmare. Lucinda’s family of wealthy socialites had expectations for everything; from co-ordinating caskets, to flowers, music and choice of minister for the services.
We agreed upon a joint service for all of them. So it was, that five days after the accident, we sat in St. Michael’s church and listened as glowing eulogies were duly given and tears appropriately shed by the many. I was not one of them. I sat through the service like an automaton. I wanted to cry, I knew I was supposed to cry, but nothing came. I just sat there listening to the words and staring into space.
The Church was packed with hundreds of mourners. Each one dutifully offered their condolences. Although I knew the assorted relatives and some of the old family friends, they seemed to be far outnumbered by the throngs of unknown faces. I thanked each one for their kind words, and in one day shook more hands and received more kisses than I had in my lifetime.
With Eric and Cecily by my side, I got through that long horrible day. I recall being forcefully seated at one point, a plate of fancy little sandwiches pushed into my hand followed by a command to eat. Cecily commanded my attention with some silly banter about the weather while Eric kept the masses at bay long enough for me to finish the food and down a cup of weak tea. I had headed to the bar at one point, walking away with a large Scotch only to have it removed from my hand and replaced with a Coke before the first sip hit my stomach.
I know that Eric was worried about me as he kept on about me letting out my grief and that I needed to cry. But somehow it all seemed like it was happening to someone else. I seemed to be feeling nothing but a hollow emptiness in my gut.
Father’s attorney and old friend, Lincoln Piper, had requested we attend the reading of the wills on the morning after the funeral. I hadn’t given much though as to disposition of the estate up to that point. So when the readings were done, the results left me shocked beyond belief.
Other than some donations to various charities and some small bequests to long-term employees; I, the prodigal son and brother, was the beneficiary of it all. I now owned Johnson Industries and was the head of The Smithaven Foundation. I was the owner of the large estate in King City, the town house in Toronto and the cottage in Muskoka. I had bank accounts and stocks and bonds worth millions. My brother’s house and private possessions went to Lucinda’s family but all his shares and ownerships from the company were mine.
When I didn’t say a word for almost five minutes after the lawyer stopped speaking, Eric stepped in and addressed him. “I think my partner needs some time to come to terms with all of this. I assume there are people in place who are managing the company and foundation in the interim?”
“Yes, yes of course. However, we will need Reggie to sign a large number of documents and the whole thing has to go through probate, which will be a fairly substantial legal process.” He went on to explain a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo that had me totally overwhelmed. In the end though, we had set up an appointment for a meeting the following week and he then handed me copies of the wills and the keys to my parents’ home.
Lucinda’s father approached me as we were leaving. The poor man was the picture of grief, having lost his only daughter. “Reggie, if there is anything of your brother’s that you would like, please let us know. We’ll ensure it is sent to you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Andrews. I can’t think of anything at this time but I’ll be in touch if there is,” I replied politely. Truth be known, I knew there was nothing of Edward’s that I would want. We had never been very close and I felt it better his things be with his wife’s family. They probably knew him better than I did.
We got home from the lawyer’s office and went upstairs to change out of our suits. I knew Eric was worrying about me but I didn’t seem to have the energy to care. He kept asking me how I was feeling and telling me that I wasn’t alone in this and that we’d deal with it together. Eric made lunch and I forced enough food down to keep him from nagging; then told him I was tired and going to take a nap.
Once I was upstairs alone, I pulled the copies of the wills out of the envelope and began to read. Lincoln had said during the reading that he was skipping the first of the bequests as they only applied if Father, Mother and Edward had been survived by their spouses or in the case of Father and Mother their first born son. As I read, what I suspected became the truth there in black type. Father’s will first left most of his estate to mother, with the exception of the business. That he left mostly to Edward Jr. with twenty-five percent shares for mother. For me, he left a single bequest of four million dollars and ten percent of Johnson Industries.
It went on to read that if Mother were to predecease him, Edward Jr. would receive all that was to be given to mother and my bequest would be the same with the exception of an increase in shares to twenty percent. It even went on to name any progeny of Edward Jr. born before or after his death to receive a large share of the estate and company with no change to my bequest. It was only at the very end that it mentioned if he were predeceased by both Mother and Edward Jr. and no progeny existed would I receive the bulk of the estate.
I am sure Father never thought for a moment that this would come to pass as it did; that he would die with both Mother and Edward Jr. I learned at the funeral that Lucinda had been three months pregnant with their first child, so there wasn’t, nor would there ever be, any grandchildren for Edward and Elizabeth Smithaven-Johnson. It all got left by default to their disappointing, damaged, gay son.
Mother’s and Edward’s wills read similarly with me being the last resort to receive what I now had. I put the wills back into the envelope and stuffed it under the mattress, hoping that out of sight would be out of mind. What the hell was I going to do? I shouldn’t have any of this and now it was all mine; along with all the responsibility that goes along with it, millions of dollars, employees, and people counting on me. No, it wasn’t right and I didn’t want it at all.
What a nightmare these last few days had been. Poor Reggie; he’d lost his entire family. Not that they’d been particularly close but still they were his parents and brother. Even an unborn niece or nephew was lost that day. I was afraid for him. Reggie was not grieving the way that he should. He hadn’t shed a single tear. It’s not that I expected screaming and rending of clothes, but it wasn’t healthy and it wasn’t normal. This emotionlessness was actually a bit frightening. For the first time since I’d known him, I felt helpless in my ability to care for Reggie. It wasn’t as if I could spank him for how he was feeling, though in some ways I felt the release of emotion would be good for him.
When more than four hours had passed, I decided he’d slept long enough. I climbed the stairs and entered the bedroom. The sight that greeted me further added to my concern. Reggie was laying on his back, fully clothed and arms at his sides, just staring straight up at the ceiling. He didn’t even turn his head when he heard the door open. Then perhaps he didn’t hear it open.
“Hey babe,” I called softly, not wanting to startle him. “I’ve got the tuna casserole that Mrs. Thompson brought over, heating in the oven. Get yourself washed up; it will be ready in ten minutes.”
“Not hungry,” he stated.
I walked over to the bed and rubbed my hand over his lightly stubbled cheek, then bent to kiss him. “Well you need to eat, so get up and do as you’re asked. Be downstairs in five minutes, okay?”
He didn’t argue; just mumbled ‘fine’ and rolled on his side.
Less than five minutes later, I was in the kitchen setting the table when I heard the sound of a car starting up. I looked out the window just in time to see Reggie’s car pull out of the driveway. I tore outside in hopes of flagging him down but he was out of sight by the time I reached the end of the drive.
With anger and worry vying for first place within me, I ran into the house to try calling his cell. I found a note by the phone in the hall.
I need a bit of time to myself. Please understand. I’m not running away from you, this is just something I have to do. My cell phone is off but I’ll check the messages regularly. I know you’ll be angry and I’m sorry. Please don’t worry. I’ll be okay.
What was I going to do? Part of me actually wanted to say it was okay, that Reggie needed and deserved some space after what he’d been going through. But the Top in me was shouting a resounding ‘NO’; that what he needed was to be home with me working through his problems together as a couple. Taking off like this was totally unacceptable. Grieving or not, he has an obligation to the parameters on which our relationship was built.
I called his cell immediately and told him just that and that I expected him to call me as soon as he got this message and to turn himself around and head home. I sat down and prayed for a call and mulled through the events of the last days.
As my mind catalogued the time in the lawyer’s office, I came to a startling thought. The keys to his parents’ home; I’d seen Reggie pocket them as he walked away from his talk with Lucinda’s father. I tore up the stairs and found the suit he’d been wearing tossed over the chair, but the keys were no longer in the pants pocket. I was now sure he’d driven to King City. I just didn’t know why.
I turned off the oven, set our home phone to forward all calls to my cell and headed out for the hour-long drive to the estate. I was going to bring my boy home.
I entered the house I grew up in, quickly keying my old code into the alarm system and praying that it hadn’t been deleted. The last thing I needed was a visit from the local constabulary. The display on the key pad turned green and screen read ‘Welcome home Reginald’. I guess Mother and Father hadn’t felt it necessary to remove me from the system even though I’d returned my keys to them years before.
The large foyer with its gleaming marble floor and vaulted ceiling still echoed when you walked through it. I noticed the formal receiving room to the right of the entrance had been redecorated again. Mother changed this room every two years like clockwork. Nothing in this house ever became worn out. Things were recovered, refinished, repainted and replaced before the first sign of wear or tear.
I honestly didn’t know what I was doing here. I just seemed to feel the need to make some connection with my family and this house seemed the place to start. Across the hall from the receiving room was father’s office. The sliding pocket doors stood closed as they always did when father was inside. I ran my hand over the smooth wood surface, remembering how it felt to be summoned to the office, to be called to see father again and be at the receiving end of another of his ‘talks’ on appropriate behaviour, living up to my potential and most importantly, not sullying the family name.
I slid open the door and was immediately struck by the smell of father’s cigars. It permeated the room with its cloying scent. Father had the cigars imported especially for him. All the ‘real’ Smithaven-Johnson men smoked cigars, or so I was told. But then again, I never quite fit in with the ‘real’ Smithaven-Johnsons. I’m sure father would have believed they’d switched babies at the hospital, except that I was born right here in this house.
The portrait of my great-great-grandfather still hung on the wall behind father’s desk. Lionel Johnson, I’ve been told a look a great deal like him. The Smithaven-Johnsons came to be when Lionel married Cordelia Smithaven. Socially the Johnsons were nobodies; however, Lionel had a head for business. At twenty-one years of age, he opened small tool shop and through some very shrewd dealings he began to carefully buy out the factories that made the tools he was selling. By the time he was thirty, he had made a tidy fortune and Johnson Industries was well on its’ way to becoming one of the world’s largest tool manufacturers.
As the story goes, once Lionel had money he wanted the social standing to go with it. He apparently felt that could be gained by joining The Granite Club. Edward Smithaven was on the membership board at the time and found himself impressed by this up and coming young man.
The Smithavens were old money and well-known for their philanthropic works. Edward’s only daughter was of a certain age and it was considered past time she find a suitable husband. However, it seems Cordelia had little use for the young men of appropriate social standing which her parents had tried to send her way. Edward arranged for Lionel to meet Cordelia and the two struck it off. They soon married, hyphenated their names and lived to all intents a very happy life together.
They had three children; two daughters and a son (my great-grandfather) Lionel Jr. to whom the family business was passed. Lionel Jr. was not quite the business man that his father was. However, he was the favourite of his Grandfather Edward Smithaven and upon Edward’s death, Lionel Jr. formed the Smithaven Foundation, a philanthropic organization that today gives something on the order of six million dollars each year in support of the arts.
Lionel Jr.’s first born son was named for his grandfather Edward. However, the boy died of diphtheria at the age of ten. This left everything to his younger brother Lionel III, my grandfather. He built this estate in King City during the depression when land was cheap and labour could be had for a song.
I vaguely remember my grandparents living in this house when I was a small boy. Grandfather died when I was only six and Grandmother only seven months later. One of the things I do remember about my grandmother was how gentle and kind she was. She always smelled of roses and she spent more time with me than my mother ever did. My nanny told me that my grandmother died of a broken heart; that she was unable to go on without the man she loved at her side.
Funny, but I can’t imagine that being the case had mother survived father. I can hear her now saying that it was total rubbish to think someone might die of a broken heart.
Mother’s maiden name was Smithaven. She was actually a distance cousin to Father. They were considered the perfect match; two people of good breeding and class who brought forth the perfect heir to their little empire in the person of my brother. Then some years later, quite by accident I’m assured, they brought forth me; Reginald, the imperfect son with behavioural issues and totally inappropriate sexuality.
I slid into the chair behind the desk and tried to wrap my head around the fact that father would never sit here again, that in fact this was now mine. It wasn’t right though. No one wanted me to have it, least of all me.
I sighed and began to nose through the desk drawers with little idea of what I’d find or even why I was looking. There were the usual desk supplies and a drawer filled with neatly organized bills and statements. Correspondence from business acquaintances and friends, nothing I found caught my attention until I opened a thick file folder filled with papers bearing the letterhead, Orillia Home for the Developmentally Challenged.
The letter on the top was dated only two weeks ago. I felt the blood drain from my face as I read.
Mr. Edward Smithaven-Johnson
11958 King Road,
King City, Ontario
Regarding: Cordelia Smithaven-Johnson
Dear Mr. Smithaven-Johnson,
Thank you for your most generous donation to further improvements here at the Orillia Home for the Developmentally Challenged. Our residents will certainly benefit from the new physiotherapy room.
Your daughter continues to do well in our care. There is no change to in her condition. As always you are welcome to visit at any time.
Dr. William Bower M.D. F.R.C.P. (C)
Director, Orillia Home for the Developmentally Challenged
I scrambled through the letters seeking out more information. As I moved further back in the file, the letters grew yellowed with age. I pulled out the one at the very back and began to read.
September 19, 1964
Orillia Home for the Mentally Retarded
Mr. Edward Smithaven-Johnson
11958 King Road,
King City, Ontario
Re: Infant Mongoloid, Cordelia Smithaven-Johnson
Dear Mr. Smithaven-Johnson,
The mongoloid child arrived in our facility last week. She continues to thrive. However, with this type of retardation and its’ accompanying physical defects, we cannot be assured that this will continue. We have some mongoloids that have lived well into adulthood, but many suffer heart defects in childhood and pass away.
Be assured that the child will receive the very best care available and that it will always be completely confidential.
Thank you for your cheque for the first six months of care. We will send you an invoice in an unmarked envelop semi-annually.
Dr. John Webber
Director, Orillia Home for the Mentally Retarded.
I was stunned beyond words. I had a sister; a sister born a year before Edward and seventeen years before me. My God, she’d be forty-five this year. I had to wrack my brain for a few minutes to remember what the obsolete and highly derogatory term Mongoloid meant today. Downs Syndrome; my God, they sent her away to a home for the ‘mentally retarded’ as soon as she was born. As I looked through the waft of letters, over the years I could see the change in attitude and names. The Orillia Home was now for the Developmentally Challenged, not the mentally retarded. They stopped calling my sister by her condition and started calling her by name.
It looked like my parents never once visited their only daughter, though of course they did ‘the right thing’ by ensuring she had care in a decent facility. Made donations to the facility, but never gave her a moment of their time. She’d grown up never knowing a moment of family love. Hell, even my lousy relationship with them was better than that.
I knew then I had to go to her. I had to see her and help her. I’d bring her home with me. Eric wouldn’t mind I was sure of it. She was my sister and my responsibility.
Thinking of family and responsibility suddenly reminded me that I was neglecting the biggest responsibility in my life, my relationship with Eric. I picked up the phone on the desk and began to dial home. Before I finished putting in the number, the front doorbell rang. I decided to ignore the door in favour of speaking with my partner. Seconds later, Eric’s warm voice was answering me.
“Yeah, it’s me. Eric, I’m sorry I took off. I know you’re angry. I’m at the estate in King City.” The irritating door bell rang again and again as I spoke. “I’m sorry. Hang on a second. Some ass is at the door and won’t stop ringing the bell.”
I put the phone down and marched out to the front door to give hell to whoever was interrupting me. I yanked the door open, only to find Eric standing there with his cell phone in hand.
“About time you answered the door.”
I fell into his arms, feeling his warmth surround me. “I’m sorry... I’m so sorry...” I mumbled against his jacket, my face pressed into the soft leather.
He guided me back inside and kicked the door closed behind us. He pulled me away from his embrace and held me at arm’s length as if to inspect me. “Are you alright?” he asked.
The sight of my lover, and the fear-touched concern in his voice, set off something inside of me and for the first time since this nightmare started, tears filled my eyes and I began to cry. Eric led me back into Father’s office and sat me on the leather sofa across from the desk. I cried in his arms for the longest time while totally soaking his shirt front, unable to produce words or even tell him about my newly discovered sister. Finally when the tears began to ebb, he produced one of his ever-present handkerchiefs and softly wiped my face.
He smiled at me when I met his eyes. “I never thought I’d say this, but it’s good to see you cry. You needed to let it out, baby, you needed to allow yourself to grieve for them.”
“No...no the tears aren’t for them,” I protested angrily. “The tears are for what I’ve found here in Father’s office. Something...something so horrible...but then the thing isn’t horrible but what they did was. Oh God, Eric, I have a sister!”
I’m sure he thought I’d lost my mind until I dragged him to the desk and showed him the file. He was a shocked as I was. Perhaps more so as I think he’d always wanted to see the best in my parents.
“Eric, they didn’t even mention her in the will. Nothing was said or done to ensure her care. I can’t believe the bastard. How could he do that?”
He rubbed my back as we read through the papers. It was about half way through that Eric noticed an envelope lying on the floor. It hadn’t been there when I’d arrived. It must have fallen out of the folder. It was addressed simply: To Edward Jr. to be opened upon my death.
I looked to Eric for support as I opened it. It was written in my father’s very precise hand.
I realize that this has come as quite a shock to you. When I told you that upon my death you were to look for special instructions in my desk, I know that you did not expect to discover anything like this.
I am sorry that I have never had the courage to tell you in person. Somehow I just never found the right time or way to explain the situation. You should know that other than your mother, myself and the director of The Orillia Home, no one else on earth knows about your sister’s existence.
At the time of her birth we were told that she would likely not live long and even if she did, she would never be normal or capable of caring for herself. The terminology of the day was ‘mongoloid’ and it was explained to us that she would be severely mentally retarded and would suffer from numerous physical handicaps. We were advised that the best thing we could do was to put her in an institution immediately and go on with our lives.
Your mother was horrified that her first born child would be born this way with this defect. She insisted that we inform everyone that the child was still born. And so we outwardly mourned her loss and prayed for another child. When you were born a year later, we were able to proudly announce the birth of a healthy son to carry on the family name.
After your birth, your mother informed me that she would have no more children as the stress and fear of having another defective child was too much for her.
However, sixteen years later and quite to our shock, your mother found she was expecting again. Given her age at the time and previous history of having a child with what was by then called ‘Down’s Syndrome’, we knew there was a high risk of reliving what we’d been through the first time. It was an extremely stressful time. You may recall that she spent most of her pregnancy in seclusion. However, by God’s grace Reggie was born without defect and your mother had the doctor’s ensure she couldn’t get pregnant again.
In order to ensure that this never becomes public knowledge, no mention of Cordelia has been made in either of our wills. I set up a private trust fund that will ensure she receives proper care for the rest of her natural life. All money left over from this fund will become the property of The Orillia Home for the Developmentally Challenged upon her death.
I ask please that you inform the director of my death so that he might deal with the trust accordingly. There is nothing else you need to do to administer the fund. However, if you have further questions, I have directed The Orillia Home to give you full access to whatever records pertaining to this that you require.
With regards to your mother, I ask that you do not bring this subject up with her. She has refused for years to discuss it and your knowing would only upset her terribly. As far as your brother goes, I would rather you not inform him. As you well know, he tends to be emotional and would only take this very private matter and make more of it than needs be or worse still, could approach your mother which would only lead to discourse.
“The fucking bastard!” I screamed as I tossed the letter across the desk. “Don’t inform Reggie. He might actually feel something, might actually have a decent human emotion!”
There was a grouping of photographs sitting on the desk in front of me. I grabbed one of Father hob-knobbing with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and hurled it across the room. I watched with great satisfaction as it shattered against the fireplace. It would have been followed by everything else on the desk’s surface had Eric not taken hold of my hands and locked them lovingly into his large warm ones. “Baby, I know you’re angry. You have every right to be angry, but throwing things and smashing them isn’t going to make this go away. It isn’t going to make you feel any better.”
We spent the next two hours talking and carefully going through the files in the desk to ensure we had all the information before making any decisions. The papers for the set up of a trust fund for Cordelia Smithaven-Johnson, ward of the Orillia Home, were found in the file folder right behind the one with all the letters from the Home. It was set up with an initial worth of one million dollars. About the only good thing I could say, was that he’d at least ensured she’d be properly cared for.
When I told Eric that I wanted to bring her home, I was afraid he’d say no. But instead he said of course she could come with us if that was what was best for her, but he did insist that we make an informed decision and not go jumping into things.
The next morning with Eric behind the wheel of his Celica, we set out for the two hour drive to Orillia. The home was in a beautiful rural setting with a gated entrance. When I told the gate-keeper that I was here to see a resident Cordelia Smithaven-Johnson, he looked surprised. His look of surprise changed to one of shock, when he asked my relationship to her.
We were held at the gate for several minutes while the gate-keeper made a call. He returned with a smile. “Please drive through to the main building on your right. Dr. Bower will be waiting for you.”
It was a large old stone-front building with a wide veranda and double doors. Being the dead of winter, the lawns in front were snow covered, but the appearance of the shrubbery and front edifice gave one to believe this place was well cared for.
We stomped the snow off of our shoes before opening the doors. The entry way was tiled with scatter mats to absorb the melting snow from people’s shoes. Further inside, the floors were gleaming hard wood and the walls were painted a warm shade of cream with polished wood trimmings on all the doors going down the centre hall.
A wide staircase ran up the centre of the hall and coming down the stairs was a casually dressed man in his early forties. He approached us with his hand extended and a kindly smile on his face. “Good morning, I’m Dr. William Bower, though known around here as Bill.” He seemed to scan our faces for a moment then looked directly at me. “You must be Mr. Smithaven-Johnson. I’m pleased to meet you. You look very much like your father. May I offer you condolences on your loss? It was a terrible tragedy.”
“Yes...I’m Reggie,” I stammered. “You knew my father?”
“Well, of course. He was a regular visitor here on first Monday of every month like clockwork. We’ll miss his visits very much.”
When he glanced to Eric, I realize that I hadn’t introduced him. “This is my partner, Eric Coombs.” They shook hands and extended greetings while I gathered my thoughts. “Dr. Bower, I don’t mean to sound shocked, but up until yesterday I didn’t even know that I had a sister and from what I read I didn’t think my parents ever came and saw her.”
“Please call me Bill. Why don’t we go to my office so we can talk about this more in a more comfortable setting?”
We followed him up the staircase and a short ways down the hall and into a nicely decorated office with a large window overlooking the grounds. Several smaller buildings that looked like cottages could be seen down a pathway leading away from the large main one.
Bill indicated a leather sofa along the wall where Eric and I sat while he took a seat in a plaid upholstered wing chair across from us. “Reggie. May I call you that?” I nodded. “Reggie, I can certainly understand that you have suffered through a great deal these last few days and then to discover that you have a sister whom you knew nothing about must have added to that shock. Though your father was never anything but kind and generous to The Orillia Home, I never understood his insistence upon secrecy. I believe it had something to do with your mother as he was very insistent that we never make contact with her for any reason. You should know though, that Cordelia adored your father. She’s a very special person.”
I was thunderstruck and needed to understand more. “Tell me about her, please. I’d like to know about my sister.”
“Cordelia has been a resident here since a few days after her birth. Though she has Downs Syndrome, she’s a remarkably healthy and happy person. Her intellectual age is approximately that of a nine year-old, though emotionally she’s a bit more advanced at about the twelve or thirteen year-old level. She’s quite outgoing in her own environment; however, she suffers from agoraphobia when she’s in places unfamiliar to her.
Over the years many things have changed in the way developmentally challenged persons live in our society. As a result of these changes, we only have a small number of residents who live in permanently. However, there are those who either must have a live-in caregiver or stay in an assisted-living facility. Cordelia is one of those people. She would not be able to live independently.
One of the aims of the Orillia home is to help our residents learn skills which give them financial independence and a sense of self worth. Your sister is very talented with a needle and thread. She hand sews beading and sequins on bridal gowns and other women’s formal wear.”
I was rather shocked to hear that my sister was being made to work at such a job. “You’re telling me you make her earn a living by sewing beads on rich women’s clothes?” I practically shouted. If Eric hadn’t taken hold of my arm, I’m sure I’d have leapt up from the sofa.
Dr. Bower was obviously used to dealing with emotional reactions. He just smiled at me and calmly replied. “Reggie, your father left your sister a most generous trust fund. I can assure you that she works because she wants to. Cordelia loves her work and she gets great satisfaction from the creations she makes. If left to her own devices, she would be up in the middle of the night sewing. Bless her, she’s quite good at some things but has no sense of time and needs reminding when to sleep and eat and bathe.”
I thought about what I’d learned and was beginning to realize that this was a more complex situation than I’d considered. “You said that Cordelia adored my father. Does she know that he’s dead and if so, does she understand what it means?”
“Yes, we’ve told her. She had experienced some other losses in her lifetime; a couple of friends and workers here, so she does understand that death means the person will not be back. She has expressed genuine grief that her papa will not be back to see her.”
“It must be very hard for her. Bill, I’d like to meet her if I could and get a chance to know her.”
Bill smiled. “Of course. I think she’d like that as well. She lives in the first cottage down the path. Why don’t we take a walk over now?” He glanced at his watch. “They should be finished lunch by now. If we head over right away, we’ll catch her before their afternoon walk.”
We donned our coats again and headed out of the main building. About a hundred feet down the path was a pretty little cottage house with yellow shutters. Bill opened the door, calling out as we entered. “Julia, I’ve brought visitors!”
A rotund woman in her forties came out of a room at the back of the cottage. She was drying her hands on a tea towel as she walked towards us. “Afternoon, Bill. We’re just finishing up the dishes.” She looked questioningly towards Eric and me.
“Julia Dempsey, meet Reginald Smithaven-Johnson, Cordelia’s brother, and his partner, Eric Combs.”
The woman grinned and held out a pudgy hand. “So you’re the famous Reggie. Edward spoke of you and your brother all the time. I’m pleased to meet you. Sorry for your loss though. It was a terrible tragedy. We were all heart sick when we heard the news.”
I didn’t think I could be surprised any more than I had been the last two days. But hearing that my father spoke about Edward and I to these people was another thing to add to my list of the unexpected.
Eric seemed to notice that I was momentarily speechless. He reached forward and took the woman’s hand. “Thank you. It’s been a very trying time.”
I pulled myself together and added. “Yes...yes thank you.”
“Reggie would like to meet Cordelia. Can she be spared from the kitchen?” Bill asked.
“Oh, of course. Why don’t you gentlemen take a seat in the common room and I’ll get her for you.”
We were shown into a small room with floral upholstered furniture and lemon coloured walls. I stood nervously by the window, chewing on my lip. Eric placed a hand on my shoulder and gave it a reassuring rub.
Moments later, Julia entered the room followed by a small woman with close cropped brown hair and thick dark-framed glasses. Her features were typical of those with Downs Syndrome; the slanting eyes, flat nose and broad face, but the smile that lit her face was a vaguely familiar one. “Hi, Doctor Bill!” She ran to Bill and gave him a hug.
Bill returned the hug and then led her over to where Eric and I stood. “Cordelia, I want you to meet some people. This is Reggie and Eric.”
She looked at me a bit quizzically. “Are you my Reggie?” she asked. “Papa says I have a Reggie who’s my brother. He gave me a picture. You wanna see it?”
She took my hand and dragged me from the room, down the hall to a small bedroom. Nearly every inch of the room’s walls were covered with pictures; some just magazine cut outs, some posters, and others that were obviously personal photographs. She took hold of a picture in a brass frame and thrust it into my hands. “That’s my papa with my Reggie and my Eddy.”
It was a photo from Edward’s wedding day. We were all in tuxes and smiling for the camera. I was only seventeen when Edward married and I felt geeky and awkward in the formal wear that seem like a second skin to my father and brother.
I handed the picture back and took her hand into mine. “Yes, Cordelia, I am your Reggie and I’m very glad to finally meet you.”
She looked at me with sad eyes and a pouting lip. “My papa died. He won’t be able to visit me anymore. Will you come and visit me?”
I led her to the neatly made bed and sat down with her. “Yes, I would like very much to come and visit you. I’d like to be your friend.”
I glanced up to see saw Eric and Bill standing in the door way. Bill nodded approvingly and Eric gave me a loving smile.
“Cordelia, would it be okay with you if Eric came with me when I visit?” I motioned for Eric to join us. “Eric is my partner and we like to do things together.”
She looked Eric over as if assessing him carefully. “Do you like liquorice? My papa always brought me liquorice when he visited.”
Eric grinned. “I love liquorice, especially black liquorice. What colour do you like?”
A smile lit her sweet face. “I only like the black; well, sometimes the red kind but black is best.”
I was suddenly taken back in time and place to my grandmother’s bedroom in the King City estate. I was no more than six years old. I’d snuck into her bedroom in search of her stash of black liquorice. She caught me with my hand in the drawer pulling out the favoured treat. The smile that lit her face was the mirror image of the smile that Eric was getting from Cordelia.
We stayed and visited for more than two hours. I learned a great deal about my sister and was looking forward to future visits with her. She proudly showed me her current work of a beautiful bridal gown upon which she was stitching delicate pearl beading. She explained very seriously about the need to wash your hands and keep the dress clean.
We were introduced to the three other developmentally challenged women who lived in the cottage and listened to some amusing stories of the lives they shared.
The only negative point came when I asked if she’d like to come and see our home. Cordelia began to panic and it took a while to assure her that she wouldn’t have to go and that we’d be only too happy to continue visiting her here.
After saying our good-byes to my sister, we had another short talk with Bill about what was acceptable to do and bring during our visits and various policies of the home.
By the time we were headed home, I was exhausted. Cordelia’s parting words to me began to play over in my mind, though I knew her meaning was quite innocent. As a matter of fact, Julia explained that Cordelia said this same thing to everyone when they were leaving. Still her simple words ‘be good’ made me think. I hadn’t exactly ‘been good’ yesterday. I’d done a number of things that in our relationship warranted discipline and I suddenly found myself stewing on when the hammer would drop.
We hadn’t been driving for more than ten minutes when Eric pulled into the parking lot of restaurant.
“It’s past time we had a good meal,” he said simply as he led the way inside. It was quiet with only a few patrons scattered about the dining room. We were shown to a secluded booth where I began to realize a serious conversation might be taking place.
Eric sat perusing the menu while I just stared at the pages without reading a word. I looked up when I felt his large warm hand wrap around mine.
“Quit stewing and pick something you’d like to eat.”
I had to smile. He knew me so well. By the time the waitress arrived, I still hadn’t decided. Eric shook his head and immediately ordered for us both; meatloaf with mashed potatoes, comfort food, simply hearty fare to sooth a weary soul.
When the waitress departed, Eric returned his attention to me. “You wanna tell me what’s got you worrying or will I take a guess?”
I moaned and dropped my head forward into my hands. Suddenly I felt him slip into my side of the booth. “Scoot over,” he instructed. I was soon pulled snugly against his side, his arm wrapped around my shoulder. “I want you to listen and really hear my words, okay?”
I nodded and prepared myself for a lengthy ‘talk’.
“Babe, what you have been through in the last week has been enough to send anyone crashing over the edge. Yet you have handled yourself with remarkable strength and dignity. I think I can guess where your mind is at this moment. It’s wandering along the ‘I screwed up and now I’m in trouble’ path. What I want you to do; is to get off that path right now.”
He paused and looked at me intently as if to gage my comprehension of his words. “Reggie, you know the saying ‘there is an exception for every rule’. Well baby, this last week is the biggest exception ever written and if you’re thinking you deserve to be punished for any behaviour exhibited at this time, then my love, you need to change your thinking. As far as I’m concerned, the discipline aspect of our relationship doesn’t even touch circumstances such as this. You have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about, so let it go.”
I looked at him with tears welling in my eyes. “But I did screw up, Eric. I ran off yesterday and didn’t tell you where I was going or even answer my cell phone. I know how disrespectful that is.”
He sat gently rubbing his hand up and down my back as he spoke. “Reggie, you need to give yourself a break. You’ve suffered a tremendous loss and I’m not about to punish you for a small infraction in the weight of what you have been through. That’s not to say that I’d tolerate you doing that again, but in this case, the cause was more than just.”
We talked for several more minutes until the waitress returned with our meals. She gave us a funny look as she put the plates in front of us, squished together as we were on the one side of the small booth. Though I wasn’t feeling hungry, Eric cajoled me through the meal until I had consumed most of it.
I don’t remember much of the ride home as I fell asleep only minutes after leaving the restaurant and didn’t wake up until Eric was gently nudging me to say we were home.
Over the next few months, I made some life-altering decisions. With Eric standing strong beside me, I sold Johnson Industries. The business held little interest to me and I had no intention of spending my days attempting to run such a large corporation. After much soul-searching, Eric and I both resigned from our jobs. We then moved in and changed the face of the Smithaven Foundation from a patron of the arts to a multi-million dollar supporter for developmentally challenged persons. We have three residential and eight non-residential centres for training and education scattered across the province. We’ve just launched a huge public awareness campaign, hoping to educate people about acceptance and integration.
Eric and I are joint CEO’s of the foundation, working as equals in all ways. But when we get home, we revert to the relationship that has worked so well for us all along. He is still my Top and I am happily still his Brat. We sold the mansion in King City and the townhouse in Toronto, though we did keep the cottage in Muskoka and enjoy our time away there. Through the week, we still live in the house we first bought together, though we have done some renovating to make it a bit more comfortable.
We visit Cordelia at least twice a month. She reminds us both of the reason we do the work that we do with the foundation. The Orillia Home is now one of the centres owned by the foundation, though we haven’t done much to change it other than putting a few extra staff in place and modernizing the buildings.
All in all, our lives have changed a great deal since that fateful day last winter, but the important things have stayed the same. Life must go on in the face of loss and though I did lose my parents and brother, I have gained a sister who has become one of the greatest joys in my life.