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Jade Box - Mums the Word

by Genni Smith

 

Part 6

 

Cassie was dressing the next morning when her cell phone rang, well she wasn’t quite sure what was ringing as it was tucked away in the handbag she had used to day before. Tracking down the annoying electric beeping sound she answered the phone a little unsure of herself. It was something that bothered her, she had always been so confident of herself as Rick, well until she shot Jamie Sunderland and found that he wasn’t holding a real gun. Before that Rick Conlon always knew who he was, what he wanted and he usually knew how to get it. Now, as well as the much smaller physical side that kept her on her toes around men and even larger women she didn’t know from minute to minute what to expect. "Hello?"

"Cassandra?" A familiar voice asked.

"Ah… yes."

"It’s Josh here. Josh Anderson."

"Oh, Mr. Mea Culpa." She smiled despite herself and then a worrying thought hit her. "How did you get this number?" Was the guy some sort of psychopathic stalker?

"It was on the business card you gave me."

"Oh," she breathed a little sigh of relief. "What can I do for you Josh?"

"I guess dinner is still a no no?"

"Not at all," she grinned. "I have dinner every night."

"I meant with me."

"Well that could be a bit tricky. Was that all you called about?"

"Ah… No, actually. I’ve gotten on to my insurance company and reported the accident but there’s nothing they can do until you file an accident report with the police."

"Shit… Sorry, one of the many things that seems to slip my mind lately. I’ll do it after work tonight."

"Great, as soon as you do I can arrange for your car to be repaired and even get you a loan car to drive around while it’s being done. Of course all of this personal service will cost you."

"What? All of this service that is only needed because you were driving like a maniac?" Cassie said. "What will it cost me?"

"Have lunch with me. Today. I’m going to be meeting you at work as promised and there’s a lovely little restaurant near your work, we can meet there and have a quick bite to eat. You’d be back at work with plenty of time to spare."

Cassie was trying to do up the tiny buttons of her blouse, which wasn’t easy when you considered how small they were, the fact that they were on the wrong side and the minor extra hindrance of her long nails. "Why is it I get the feeling you have a habit of meeting women by arranging to crash into them?" She asked as Ally entered the room and stood in front of her with a hairbrush.

Josh laughed. "Well if I could hit women as gorgeous as you I’d drive a cheaper car and drive like I was in a demolition derby. So is it a yes for lunch?"

Giving up on the buttons momentarily She managed to juggle the phone onto her left side between her shoulder and ear while she used both hands to brush her daughters hair and put it up into a reasonable facsimile of a ponytail using a small elastic band. She couldn’t help but blush at Josh’s comments and was weakening by the second. "Well actually calling me has saved you a trip. I am going to be in meetings all afternoon and I’ll be lucky to grab a sandwich on the run."

"That’s a shame." The man said. "Still, there’s always tomorrow. I’ll see you then. Do you have a pen handy?"

"Ah… why?"

"So you can grab my phone number and ring me when you’ve filed a police report about the accident."

She turned and grabbed a lipstick. "Shoot."

He reeled off his number and she used the lipstick to write it on the mirror above her dresser. "Got it."

"Good, I’ll see you tomorrow Cassandra."

"Call me Cassie."

"Cassie it is. Do you like seafood?"

"Sure I do. Why’s that?"

"You’ll see." He said with a smile on his voice. "Have a good day Cassie."

"You too Josh." Looking down at her Daughter she wasn’t too surprised to see a devilish smile on the girl’s face. "What’s up with you young lady?"

"When mummy fibbed to a man to get rid of him he wasn’t as cute as the car man." Ally said. "And besides, it’s wrong to lie."

"Who said I was lying?"

"You’ve turned red. Mummy always turns red when I catch her in a fib." She stated matter of factly.

Cassie conceded defeat by changing the subject and hoping that the girl didn’t notice. "Is your brother ready?"

"I think so, he’s in watching television."

"I swear that boy is spending so much time in front of that damn thing he’s going to get square eyes." Cassie moaned before stopping dead in her tracks. She’d heard some one say that about her when she was a young lad. "My god," she said. "I’m becoming my mother."

"Worse," Ally shot back with a cheeky grin. "You’re becoming mine."

"Is that a bad thing?"

"Nah… I still want my real mummy back though."

"You and me both kiddo. You and me both."

-oOOo-

"Morning Sue," she said as she walked into work already exhausted. As well as dragging her son away from the idiot box she had done a sink full of dishes, a load of washing and cleaned her bathroom. Then of course she had to make herself presentable, a shower, ran a razor over her legs and underarms, had a shower and dried her hair then dressed in a knee length navy skirt and a red short sleeved blouse that had a few too many ruffles on it for her liking. Unfortunately she had put washing the clothes off for so long she didn’t have a great choice when it came to selecting clothes for work.

"Ah. Here she is." Sue responded. "Just the woman I was looking for. And she’s got coffee, you’re a life saver."

"What’s up?"

"All hell’s broken loose here. Smiley is on my back to make sure we get our normal work done as well as organise this damn charity event."

"What can I do?" She asked putting her handbag down on her desk and taking a deep breath before launching herself into it all.

"Well I’ll handle the every day stuff if you like and you can do some more begging seeing as how you were so good at it when it came to the buses."

"What do we need?"

"Prizes for the raffles. I don’t care how you get them, beg, steal or borrow but we need some good stuff to get people to shell out some much needed cash."

Quickly running some possibilities through her mind, people she had known as Rick and knowledge she had that might help twist an arm or two she said, "Shouldn’t be a problem. Leave it with me. Of course if Smiley got off his fat arse and helped a bit we might be able to do a lot more."

"Now, now. Be nice Cassie. Smiley is a very busy man, people to see, butts to kiss."

"True," Cassie giggled. "So many butts, so little time."

"Oh by the way, what time would you like Jim and I there Saturday night?" Jim was Sue’s husband; Cassie already knew that from her work mate’s grumbling about how little work he did around the house.

Once again she was on her back foot. "Saturday?"

"The big dinner party." Sue prodded. "Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten?"

‘Now I have to cook?’ Cassie thought. ‘Me cook food and make it edible? My god. Oh well, at least it’s only for me, Sue and her husband’

"No… of course not." She said, sounding like the idea of her forgetting such a big thing was preposterous. She didn’t know about it because she’d been a very content guy when the arrangements were made "How about we just leave it to the normal time?"

‘Now I just need to know what the normal time is and what I should cook.’

"7:30 p.m. it is." Her colleague nodded. "I have to tell you that I am looking forward to it girl. You’re going to have to go a long way to top the last one. I know that Ian and Jenny are looking forward to it too."

"Ian and Jenny?" ‘Shit, that’s five of us.’

"Ah ha. It should be a great night. I bet Mark will do his party trick, as usual and Marissa will get angry with him, as usual."

‘Fuck, that’s seven.’

"And if I was you I’d organise your own date. You know what Jenny and Marissa are like. If you go stag one of them will turn up with a cousin that just turned up or a visitor from overseas who would have been sitting at home alone if they didn’t bring him, anything to set you up. Remember the last guy they found for you. What was his name?"

"I don’t remember."

"You’ve probably blocked it out, you poor dear." Sue paused to ponder the question for a second or two. "Frankie, that’s it. Freaky Frankie we called him. Why not invite Mr. Wonderful."

"Josh?" Cassie said, embarrassed that she even thought of him as Mr. Wonderful. ‘That makes eight.’ Cassie was almost in total breakdown now. It sounded like the real Cassie was somewhat of a whiz when it came to fine cuisine while Rick was pretty damn pitiful at it. She remembered the few sad attempts at making breakfast in bed for Claire in their glory days. The eggs were like rubber; while the bacon was either so undercooked that even their dog wouldn’t look at it, or as hard as a rock. Of course Claire made it look like she ate some of it and she never got too angry when she saw the state of the kitchen when she did get out of bed. She appreciated the attempt and knew Rick well enough to know that one bad word would mean he would banish himself from the kitchen forever more.

"Yeah, give the guy a break Cassie. It’s obvious he likes you."

"I’ll see." Was all she could say but the idea was beginning to look appealing.

-oOOo-

By lunchtime she’d managed to get quite a few donations ranging from a weeks holiday on the Gold Coast in Queensland to a big screen T.V. Some of the donations were from her old contacts, which were easy because she knew exactly which buttons to press while others came a little harder. Strangely enough she got the best results from men and the breathier her voice went the quicker they were to throw anything she wanted her way. She was slowly beginning to work out how to use her feminine wiles but that didn’t mean she had to like it.

"Okay," Sue said. "That’s time for a break. Are you going to sit with us today Cass?"

"Ahh… I sort of lied to Josh and told him I was in a meeting all afternoon so I might take a rain cheque on that and go and hide in some corner. Just in case he comes anyway."

"Are you feeling alright hon?"

"Me? Sure I am. Why?"

Sue had a look on her face that was a mixture of concern and puzzlement. "I’ve never known you to run so much from such a nice guy. Is Michael causing problems?"

"Michael?" ‘Oh, my ex-husband.’ Cassie reminded herself. "No. It’s just that I am trying to cut down on men, you know a bit like when you quit smoking." Sure it was a pitiful explanation but it was one she hoped Sue would accept.

"Well there is a bit of a difference between cigarettes and men sweetie. Men are more dangerous for your health." Sue grinned. "Looking at Josh yesterday I am sure if you tried sucking on him you’d choke."

Sue added a knowing ‘Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink’ look that shocked Cassie. She was used to men talking like that. After all she’d been a man amongst men all of her life and was more than used to the locker room talk about women but at no time did she think women were capable of similar talk about men.

Blushing intensely and feeling angry at herself for doing so Cassie tried to laugh it off but Sue took her embarrassment at the ribald quality of the comments as more of a women blushing because she’d been caught fancying a particular man by her best friend. "I knew you liked him," Sue crowed. "Cassie likes Josh." She chanted like she was Ally’s age. "Don’t worry Cass, if he turns up here I won’t spill the beans. Now lets go get some grub before it’s time to go back to work."

-oOOo-

Cassie grabbed a small bowl of ready-made salad, a diet coke and a newspaper before checking around for Josh and making a dash to the sun lounge where she’d found Meg the day before. She hadn’t had time that morning to search the database and find out more about her but for some reason talking to the girl made her feel better. Even though a few people knew that Cassie was really Rick she still didn’t feel like she could be herself with them. Bull saw her as a woman rather than his old mate while Ally saw her mummy. It was only natural really because the world is a very visual place and even though they knew who was inside they couldn’t help but see the outside shell. Stuart and Jade didn’t know Rick at all so Cassie couldn’t compare how they were treating her now. With Meg she felt some strange sense of kinship and even though she had stumbled upon her during her first day at work Cassie felt Meg was the one person she could actually talk to probably because she was also the only person who didn’t talk back, a fact that always made talking so much easier.

"Hi Meg," She smiled as she approached the girl who was sitting in pretty much the same spot looking at the same view as the day before. "Just your friendly neighbourhood nut with the multiple-personality."

Meg appeared to hear her if not be able to work out what she was saying because she looked up at the noisemaker with the same blank look. Well at least she was getting some progress Cassie thought.

"I’ve had a strange old day I can tell you. I was up early and did a full days work before I even got here. If I had to choose between walking the beat on a Saturday night with all of the drunks and maniacs and being a working mum I know what I’d pick. Being a cop was a picnic compared to this and now I find I have to put on a dinner party for 8 people. Do you know how good I am at cooking? About as good as I am at tap dancing. I tried tap dancing once and sprained my ankle when I fell in the sink." Cassie paused for the expected groan but of course none came. "What the hell, I’ll give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen? Well actually the worst that can happen is I will be standing at the Pearly gates and Saint Peter will tell me to bugger off because I just killed 7 people and myself with salmonella." She couldn’t help but laugh at this scenario. "That’s assuming I make it that far with all of the stuff I’ve done in my other life." She thought about some of the more gruesome murder scenes she’d attended in her job as a detective. "Well, at least if they try and send me to hell I can tell them to think again because I’ve already seen it."

She continued to chat as she read the paper. Some times it was just a matter of venting her spleen and at others the conversation died so she commented on stuff she read in the news. It was strange, while she was reading, holding the paper up in front of her, between herself and Meg she could have sworn she felt the girl’s eyes following along with the text on the front and back page but as soon as she dropped the paper Meg had the same blank expression and a ‘butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth’ look.

"Why is it that I get the feeling that there’s some one in there who’s seeing and hearing all?" Cassie asked as she glanced at her watch. "Damn, looks like time has beaten us again, I have to go back to the mines but I’ll come back again tomorrow and I promise to take some time to read your file."

She was about to pick up the rubbish so she could take it with her when a young uniformed policeman wandered up to her. She didn’t know him but the sight of the young man made her feel older than normal, the guy looked like he didn’t even shave yet. "Excuse me?"

"Yes Constable?"

"I’m looking for the director of human recourses, I was wondering if you could help me out?"

"The place is a bit of a maze isn’t it?" Cassie smiled looking up at him. "If you head back in the direction you came from you’ll find the cafeteria, go past that and turn left at the first corridor. Go straight down there and you can’t miss it."

"Thankyou Ma’am. You have a good day."

"You too." Cassie said as she turned back to Meg. She was amazed to see that the girl was terrified. Literally scared out of her wits, sweating bucket loads and eyes as wide as dinner plates. It was pointless asking what was wrong so she quickly went off to find a nurse and told her what happened. The nurse had both a worried and puzzled look on her face but she wheeled Meg back to her room and tried to calm the girl down a little bit.

‘Why on earth did she react like that?’ Cassie asked herself as she walked back to her office. ‘This just gets curiouser and curiouser.’

-oOOo-

Climbing into the car after she had finished her paid work for the day, because she surely hadn’t finished unpaid work, she had dinner to cook as well as a kitchen that needed a good clean plus the fifty thousand other jobs that usually popped up around home, Cassie took off her high heels and put them on the floor in front of the passenger seat as she had done since she had been transformed. The kids were in after school care so she had time to head to a police station and make a report of the accident so she could get her car fixed. She knew exactly where to head, after all it was one of the stations she had worked at as Rick. Walking in wearing a skirt, hose and heels was certainly strange, as well as being so much shorter than she had been the last time she was there. She quickly relayed the details to a sergeant she had briefly known, just in passing, and then filled in an accident report. When that was done she was back in the car park about to get in to her slightly mangled car when she spotted a book shop across the road that hadn’t been there when she’d worked there five or six years ago. Thinking of the dinner party she thought it might be a good idea to head on over and get some cookbooks.

The store was large and thankfully well laid out so she didn’t have a problem finding the ‘Food and Lifestyle’ section only now she was faced with a barrage of choice. Shrugging she picked up the first book that appealed to her and flicked through until she found a recipe that she liked the look of.

Braised Brisket and Salsa Verde… ‘Great, now I just need an interpreter and I’m set. What the hell is Braising, a Brisket or salsa fucking Verde for that matter?’ Even some of the ingredients didn’t register with her. ‘Capers? Balsamic vinegar? Is that just a way to sell normal vinegar for a lot of money?’

Shaking her head she leafed through to another page. ‘Roasted onion and goats cheese crostada? Okay, now I know they’re shitting me. They make cheese from goats? Fuck it, I’ll cook a barbeque.’ And with that she put the book back down on the shelf and walked out of the shop. For once she was looking forward to seeing her children, at least they spoke English.

-oOOo-

Cassie was trying to watch the news after making dinner for Lachlan and Ally, trying because for once Lachie was hanging around her instead of playing computer games or watching television. As Rick she had prided herself on her knowledge of current affairs and no matter what shift she had she always managed to watch the news and keep up with what was going on in the world, even if it was one of the 24 hour a day news channels. Now, she’d cooked dinner and put up with what appeared to be the inevitable rumblings of disapproval, "This has got mushrooms in it. I hate mushrooms." Ally had said and Cassie was temporarily transported back in time when she and Patrick had done pretty much the same thing to her mother.

"Where are the mushrooms?"

"There," the little girl replied pointing to one with her knife. "And there and there."

"Well if you can see them Alicia you know what not to eat."

"Oh yeah… I still don’t like them though."

"Well they’re probably not too pleased with you."

"Oh yuck."

"What?" She asked her son as his face creased up in obvious disgust.

"There’s celery in here."

"So?"

"So I hate celery."

"Well the same thing goes for you, put it aside." Then she had a brain wave. "Ally, do you like celery?"

"Ah ha."

"And what about you mister? Do you like mushrooms?"

"Yep."

With that she picked up both of their plates and speared all of the mushrooms on one and the celery on the other then placed the correct one in front of each. "Problem solved."

Now as she sunk comfortably on the sofa and rested her tired feet listening to a news reader talk about an attempted terrorist strike in South east Asia and how Australia had offered to send some Federal Police, the plastic fantastic as local cops called them, Lachie, who had been pretty quiet, even for him, since he got home from school, was sitting next to her with a look on his face that told her he wanted to ask something.

"What can I do for you sport?" She asked finally bowing to the inevitable.

"Me? Ah… nothing."

"Are you sure?"

"Ah ha."

"Okay then, do you want to do me a favour?"

"I guess so."

"Well I don’t know about you but I had a pretty rotten day so how about you give your old mum a hug?" She smiled opening her arms for the boy.

He shuffled over and gave her a huge cuddle, adding to her concern that something was up. "Thanks kiddo, I needed that. How was your day?"

"Okay… I got into trouble though."

"Why?"

"I hit Samantha Rhymer." He said quietly.

"Lachlan, you know that you shouldn’t hit girls. You shouldn’t hit anyone for that matter unless you absolutely have to."

"Well I absolutely had to hit her." He stated firmly. "She’s been bugging me for days. She runs up behind me and hits me on the back, she pokes me in the ribs and when the teacher isn’t looking she throws wadded up balls of paper at me."

Cassie thought about this for a second and then said, "It sounds to me that Samantha Rhymer has a bit of a crush on you."

"Yuck."

Cassie couldn’t help but giggle. "You may think so now but believe me buddy, in a few years you’ll be happy that the girls are looking at you."

"I doubt it. Girls are all dumb anyway."

"Am I dumb?"

"Nah… but you’re my mum, not a girl."

"I’m both."

"Well if Sam likes me why does she keep hitting me?"

"Maybe she’s scared to tell you because she thinks you’ll make fun of her. Maybe she doesn’t know what to say. Look at it this way, she’s got what she wanted because you’re thinking about her."

Lachlan seemed to mull that thought over for a few minutes and Cassie turned her attention back to the television. "Mum?" He said eventually.

"Yeah?"

"I know babies come from mothers stomachs but how do they get in there?"

‘This is not a conversation I want to be having,’ Cassie said to herself. ‘Normal people get married, have kids, bring them up, see them go off to school for the first day and then years down the track they have to have this discussion with them. I open a damn box and within a week I have to tell this boy the facts of life? Where’s the fairness in that?’

"Are you sure you don’t want to talk to your dad about this?" Is what she actually said aloud.

"Uh uh. Do you know how many girlfriends he’s had since you two divorced? None. Between you and me I don’t think he has much idea about this sorta thing."

Again Cassie couldn’t help but laugh. "Alright Kiddo, get yourself comfortable and listen up because I am only going to say this once." She proceeded to fill the boy in on both the biology and the emotional aspect of sex.

"You stick what where?" He’d asked, wide eyed, at one point. And when she was all done and he’d had time to think about it for a few minutes he added, "So where the hell do the birds and bees come into it?"

-oOOo-

"I’ll get it." Ally shouted as the phone rang in the kitchen.

"You got it last time squirt. It’s my turn. If you pick up that phone you are dead meat."

"I’ll get it." Cassie said rolling her eyes. "Hello."

"Ah… Twitch?"

"Bull?"

"Shit mate, I can’t get used to that… girly voice coming out of you."

"Well think how I feel. What’s up mate? It’s not Claire is it?"

"Oh… yeah. I mean no… look, I found out some information and I wasn’t sure if I should let you know or not."

"Information about who?"

"Well I was looking throw a list of tomorrows court cases involving neighbourhood crime for a report to all of the neighbourhood watch areas and I came across a name that’s knocked me for a loop…Jamie Sunderland."

The name struck Cassie like a sledgehammer. ‘Of course, if Rick Conlon was never a cop then Jamie Sunderland wouldn’t have been shot and killed.’

"You there Twitch?"

"Uh… yeah. What’s he been charged with?"

"Well it seems he was out with a girl and some jerk tried to make a pass at her so he argued with him and they got into a fight. He’s been charged with disturbing the peace, attempting to cause bodily harm and possessing a weapon i.e. a knife."

"Well it looks like old Jamie hasn’t changed then. I’d say he’d be spending a year or two in lock up, especially when you add that to all of his past infringements."

"That’s just it Rick… Cassie… Whatever your name is. I had a look at his file and this is the first time he’s been charged with anything, the first time the cops have heard of him."

"What?"

"He’s a clean skin mate."

Cassie was reeling. The only thing that helped save her bacon when she shot the boy was his record and the fact that he was known to carry a gun. She just had the bad luck to shoot him on a night when he didn’t have a real gun on him, just a replica. And now Mick Buller was telling her that he had a clean slate as far as arrests were concerned. "How… How can that be?" She said breathlessly.

"You tell me. All I can gather is something you’ve done… or more precisely didn’t do has done something big to change Sunderland."

‘Mamma Chow, I don’t know if you can hear me old girl but right now I have no idea what you’re playing at. This it all too much for me.’

-oOOo-

 

 

 

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2002 by Genni Smith. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, compilation design) may printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without express written consent of the copyright holder.