What Nature Intended 

Butterfly sculpture, Hapeville Train Depot Plaza, Hapeville, GA, artist unknown. Photographed 17 April 2016.

To someone trying to reason out why people behave the way they do, homosexuality may seem like an anomaly. Two men together or two women together cannot produce a child, and since the biological imperative for all creatures on earth seems to be to survive and procreate, homosexuality doesn’t appear to play a role in that. For someone who adheres to a philosophy which states that all life was fashioned in the image of a divine creator, people frequently come to the conclusion that homosexuality is against the design of this creator, and yet, humans are not the only species to exhibit homosexual behavior, we’re just the only ones who constantly obsess over it. Remove divine intent from the equation, and we’re still left with the quandary of figuring out what, if any, evolutionary function homosexuality serves. The problem is we’re most likely still overthinking it.

When discussing human behavior, particularly with regard to sexuality, one often speaks of “what nature intended”, and yet, we rarely speak of this when talking about other natural phenomena. If a region is hit by an earthquake or flood, the people there usually don’t interpret that as nature telling them they don’t belong there, though insurance companies might disagree. It’s only in the realm of human behavior that we assume some divine purpose underlies what we do. Trying to figure out why something happens is usually the first step in figuring out how to prevent something from happening, and more than a few people throughout the world would be happy if homosexuality could be eliminated. The question is why?

One cannot simply look at a person and know that person’s sexuality. Men and women who don’t meet society’s standards for masculinity and femininity still choose mates of the opposite sex, while people who conform to the behaviors assigned by society for that gender sometimes don’t. We have already had instances of very masculine male athletes coming out as gay, and feminine models and actresses announcing they’re lesbians. As homosexuality becomes less stigmatized in society, we’ll undoubtedly have more instances of this. We don’t even need high profile illustrations, since pretty much everyone knows someone they thought was or wasn’t gay up until the time that person started dating someone of the same or opposite sex. As with many things in nature, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it. It’s society and culture that typically complicates things and we’re responsible for developing and maintaining those.

In patriarchal societies, fathers or other male relatives choose how women will be joined with their mates, and often the strongest and most influential men get first choice, surprise, surprise. In much of nature, however, it’s the female of the species which makes that choice, and the males must put on elaborate displays to attract the attention of willing partners. If one sees a pair of red birds, for instance, the one most brilliantly arrayed is the male, and among songbirds, it’s often the males who sing elaborate songs in order to attract mates. In cultures which tend to be matriarchal, we also see this behavior in humans, males prancing and preening in makeup and brightly colored costumes to attract the attention of their intended brides. Given the vastly different roles played by males and females in reproduction, particularly with mammals, it makes more sense for the female to choose, since she’s taking the greater risk in getting pregnant. Even in patriarchal societies we see vestiges of this, fathers choosing their daughters’ husbands based on who will best provide for them, or which tribal alliances will best insure their survival.

So, what did nature intend in creating homosexuality? Most likely nothing. With regard to biology, nature is a usually a passive force which sometimes gives a species mutations that have no effect on survival unless conditions exist that make that mutation an advantage. The way a given species reproduces is the result of billions of years of evolution and the fact that different species have vastly different methods of reproduction suggests no specific plan was in place from the start. One might argue that homosexuality is one of the curbs nature puts in place to control population growth, but this ignores two important facts. First, the percentage of homosexuals in society appears to remain constant while the population gets larger. Second, and more importantly, people who are homosexual are still capable of having children. Neither the ability nor the desire to have children is affected by one’s sexual preference. True, there are many homosexuals who don’t want children, but there is probably an equal percentage of heterosexuals who also don’t want children. If there is a curb, it’s probably more the lack of desire to reproduce rather than the type of relationship one is in.

Societal prohibitions against homosexuals focus almost exclusively on male homosexuality. Leviticus 18 forbids men from having sex with other men and says nothing about women. It’s not until much later that admonitions for women were added to Jewish law. It’s likely the restriction was put in place because this was behavior observed in cultures with whom the ancient Israelites interacted. It’s known that the ancient Greeks practiced homosexuality, though the specific cultural context is probably lost to us today. It would seem then, that the prohibition has less to do with protecting families or society than with controlling a specific type of male behavior.

Throughout human populations, rape is often a powerful weapon employed in asserting control over other individuals or groups of people. Despite its sexual nature, rape is not about sex, but about demonstrating one’s dominance over another person. In Western society, males who are raped by other males carry a higher stigma than females who’ve been raped, and boys who’ve been sexually abused often receive more attention than girls. Aside from totally ignoring or flippantly dismissing rape allegations by women, authorities take male rape very seriously, believing it diminishes the man’s masculinity. One rarely hears someone dismiss allegations of rape by one man against another with the phrase, “Boys will be boys” though statistics from prisons and other male-dominated endeavors tell a different story. Despite the fear mongering by anti-gay activists, men who rape other men often do not identify as homosexuals, since, again, rape is not about sexuality, but control.

So, it seems the real culprit is not human sexuality, but the need by humans to exert control over others, and that is a perversion of the survival instinct, since those who control the resources have a better chance to survive than those who don’t. We see, in parts of Africa where water and other natural resources are scarce, the highest level of strife, as populations are constantly at odds to try to claim those resources. In the Balkans, while the Soviet Union was still in place, people of different ethnicities lived side by side with relatively little conflict, but once the stabilizing influence of an authoritarian regime was removed, ethnic cleansing soon followed. The challenge for us is not to eliminate homosexuality from existence, since its presence in and of itself has not proven detrimental to the health and welfare of a given society. Rather it’s to overcome the need for humans to exert dominance over their environment and fellow individuals, which has been shown to hinder growth and development, bringing about such atrocities as wartime sexual violence and genocide, and leading to such repressive regimes as Apartheid-era South Africa. Our focus, then, should not be on those who wish to lead contented lives with partners they desire, but rather those who’ll stop at nothing to prevent them.

Remains 

Skull photographed at Artisan Resource Center, 24 January 2016, artist unknown.


I’ll state up front, she dies — eventually. I mean, we all do, right? Nothing any of us can do will make much of a difference. I don’t want people getting a false sense of hope that things work out between us in the end because they don’t. They almost never do, really.

I won’t use the name she gave me because that person doesn’t exist, alive or not. She made that as clear as she could, through both her music and things she told me. If she still has a name, I don’t know it. Even if I did, I wouldn’t tell. I owe her that much. The name people knew was Shayna, but that was an illusion she created that has served its purpose. It kept people from asking too many questions. She didn’t like questions and unlike some wasn’t very good at hiding her disdain. 

Perhaps I should start at the beginning, or as close as I can come to the beginning because I sort of came in halfway through her story. Imagine walking into a club and hearing a voice so enticing that it consumes every fabric of one’s being. That was her. She was standing at the mic, holding a guitar and pouring out her soul for the mostly indifferent crowd. Pool players, folks there to watch the game, drinkers, smokers, all contributing to the general din, with no idea what a miracle they were missing. I recognized it and wanted to be as close as possible.

I took a seat near the stage — there were a lot — and I gave her my undivided attention. I think she sensed someone was there to actually listen because her sound brightened a bit. I guess I came in just after she started, because she played for another twenty or thirty minutes. Afterward we talked for a while and I got on her contact list and bought a CD. Many artists sound different in the studio than live but I was pleased to hear as I listened to her CD in the car that recording her voice had not diminished its power. From that point on, I saw her wherever she played locally. On a whim, I once even drove all the way to Birmingham to see her, which surprised her to no end. In fact, it was the Birmingham show where I gained her trust, if not her friendship.

She rode up with some fellow musicians, including the driver who apparently wanted to get to know her on a more intimate level. When she made it clear to him after the show that it wasn’t going to happen, he drove off and left her at the venue. I was the only other person she knew who was headed back to Atlanta, so after several protests about the inconvenience, she agreed. At first, as we rode along, I tried to get some personal info out of her, but my inquiries were met with silence and I knew better than to press. Instead, we started talking about music and that’s where she opened up. She had eclectic influences, Blues, Jazz, sixties Rock, but also she mentioned Broadway musicals that her mother had introduced to her via soundtracks played around the house. We had a good talk, and as I dropped her off she told me to let her know when I was coming to a show so she could put me on “the list”.

Understand, we were never friends, as that would have required a level of openness on her part that she wasn’t willing to give, but after Birmingham she trusted me and her trust was more important than her friendship. Truth be told, she was linked to a lot of people, women, men, the evidence was never definitive on her preference, or if she even had one. She never told me, and I never asked. After she was gone, a number of people claimed to have been with her. I suppose it’s a game. If one can’t be special, then attach oneself to someone who is, regardless of whether it’s true or not. If there were no witnesses, who’s to say after the fact?

She was “successful” I suppose, at least by industry standards. She started selling some records, booking larger venues, touring. She never liked the attention, but she loved the connection, standing in front of the audience, hearing them sing along to one of her songs. She told me once that she missed the intimacy of smaller venues, where she could actually talk to people after shows. She recorded quite a bit and was always in the studio or at a concert. She didn’t quite make it to the status of headliner, during her brief time in the spotlight, but she was always an anticipated opening act, and always a big draw when she played occasional solo shows at favored local spots. 

I asked her about it once and she denied she was successful. She didn’t equate being well-known or selling records with success. “It’s the music,” she told me. “If it doesn’t mean anything, what else matters?” For every song she recorded, there were probably ten others she’d written that the label decided wasn’t commercial. If I had to speculate on what drove her to what she did, I’d have to guess it was the loss of her freedom. It’s what caused her to take a hiatus, just at the point where many felt she was about to have her big breakthrough. She just walked away, put the brakes on and retired to her cabin in the woods, “to reassess”.

No one is certain exactly what happened. The best guess based on the evidence collected is that she simply went for a hike in the woods near her house one day and never came back. There wasn’t anyone checking in on her, so several days passed before anyone even thought to miss her. Her behavior had not seemed out of the ordinary leading up to the last time anyone heard from her and it was normal for her to go several days, weeks even, without any communication as long as she had all her necessities nearby. She often remarked how much she liked getting lost in nature and how convenient it was living near a forest.

When she missed a show at one of her favorite venues the owner went to her place, and called the police when he couldn’t get anyone to come to the door. For several weeks after, there were searches and APBs and her photo was flashed across the country. She became more famous after her disappearance than she’d been before and the record company took full advantage of that by promoting her back catalog. Sales of her music tripled. No one knew her well enough to say what might have been on her mind so no one could speculate on what happened to her.

Some months later a couple of hikers stumbled over what turned out to be a human femur. A search of the area turned up additional bones, including a skull, that were scattered as though predatory animals had gotten at the body. The skull was missing about half its teeth, but enough bones were found to reveal they belonged to a female about her age and height. Nearby were fragments of clothes which matched items she’d typically wear. For most who followed the situation, that was all that was needed to close the books. 

She didn’t leave much behind beyond her household supplies. The most important item was what she called her goodie bag, the knapsack full of personal effects she took the pains to haul around with her everywhere she went. She said it contained her remains. Inside was a high school yearbook, a formal dress, two pairs of well-worn, lace-up checkerboard Vans, a pair of men’s jeans, and an old cigar box that contained these items:

  • Her class ring
  • A photo of her mother
  • A handwritten list of phone numbers most of which go to disconnected lines
  • A couple of napkins bearing the names of local bars, neither of which are there anymore 
  • A sheet containing lyrics to the first song she ever wrote — a note says at age ten
  • An invitation to her high school graduation
  • A flash drive containing her video diary entries, none of which reveal very much
  • An unsigned, undated note on lined paper that reads, “Why, Daddy, why?”

Did these represent the sum total of her life — items she felt she needed with her, right up to the point where she left them behind at the last place she lived? I do believe she deliberately left them there, because I think she knew she wasn’t coming back. 

See, here’s the thing. I saw the skull they found — I was counted as a close acquaintance which gained me access — but I examined it and while there were only a few teeth left in it, two of them had fillings. Authorities anxious to close the case missed that fact — but two teeth had fillings. I know for a fact she had never had any dental work done. She told me that herself, even showed me when I doubted her. So I don’t know who the poor soul was whose skull they found, but it wasn’t her. 

I don’t know why she left her stuff behind. Maybe she thought she wouldn’t need it anymore. Maybe there’s more to be found in the woods, since they cover a lot of acres. Maybe she just needed her disappearance to be convincing. I have it if she ever reappears though I doubt she ever will. Whether she’s alive or dead, she was done with this life. Still, I’ll hang on to it for her, just in case.

Worthy, Part 5


As Elspeth leads them into the study, Rhiannon says, “You’re looking well, Elspeth. More relaxed than the last time we talked.”

“There’s a certain comfort that comes with age, which I’m sure you’re discovering. One learns to be far more discerning with one’s time and attention. It’s very liberating.”

They enter the study and Elspeth directs them to sit on the couch.

“Since it looks like we’ll be here a while, I’m going to get us some refreshments. I have lemonade, other soft drinks. I also have wine, even though it’s not yet noon. In fact, I believe I’ll have a glass myself.”

“The wine sounds tempting, but lemonade for me,” Rhiannon says. Abigail nods.

Elspeth exits and returns a few minutes later with a tray containing a pitcher and some glasses, and a wine bottle and glass. She sets it on the table and removes the wine and glass then retreats to her chair.

“I’m surprised you haven’t asked about Daniel,” Elspeth says.

“I don’t really care anymore. The last time I saw or spoke to Danny was when I told him I was pregnant. We see how that worked out. It’s bad enough I have to see him on television every Thursday at the hospital.”

“Yes, the Medical Minutes. I had very little influence on his decision to do those. The only bright spot is that they require Daniel to be in Los Angeles during the week.”

“He’s not practicing medicine anymore?”

“He consults on special cases and still performs surgery when the injury warrants someone of his expertise, but otherwise he’s found the money’s much better playing a doctor than being one.”

Elspeth takes a sip of her wine and says, “Your mother’s still living, isn’t she?”

“If you can call it that. My sister moved back to Seattle a few years ago with her daughter so she’s there to share part of the responsibility. I do have to thank you, though. The facility you found for her has been excellent.”

“They’ve always gotten high marks. I’m glad to hear she’s receiving exemplary care.”

“So, I suppose we could continue to exchange pleasantries —”

“Yes. Obviously, you’re here for something, which I assume is monetary,” she says. “Please state what it is and hopefully we can conclude this matter quickly. I have the garden club coming in a little while.”

Rhiannon motions to Abigail, who stands.

“It’s simple. Baby needs a college education.”

“Ah, yes, that’s right. The one thing that struck me about you before. You never ask for anything for yourself.”

“What do I need? The one thing I thought I wanted was Danny and he didn’t even have the guts to face me when you ended our relationship.”

“Very insightful,” Elspeth says then turns to Abigail.

“As for you, young lady. What’s your area of interest?”

“Science,” Abigail says, “Biology, actually.”

“Pre-med?”

“No. Well, could be. I’m interested in genetics.”

“How are your grades?”

“I was a national merit scholar junior and senior year.”

“Don’t you qualify for scholarships?”

“I do but they’re not enough.”

“I assume you applied for an Armstrong Fellowship.”

“I did. Just missed the cut. They awarded twenty. I was twenty-one. That’s why I don’t have enough.”

Elspeth considers this.

“Well, let’s see what we can do about that.”

Elspeth reaches for the phone. She speaks to Rhiannon, “Before we proceed any further, I need assurances from you that you’ll not be coming around every other month hitting me up for more.”

Rhiannon chuckles. “It’s been eighteen years, Elspeth. I think I have a pretty good track record.”

“Yes, I do have to commend you on that. Still, you’re here now.”

“These are special circumstances. I hope you’d do whatever’s in your power to insure your child has all the advantages.”

“Well, seems we do have that in common.”

Elspeth dials a number.

“Roger. Access the file on Armstrong applicants, please. Last name Worthy. That’s her. What was her ranking? That close? What made the difference? I see. As it turns out, I have a surplus of funds so it appears this is her lucky day. Yes. Thank you, Roger.”

She hangs up and looks at Abigail.

“Well, it appears you’d have made the cut if you’d had another extra curricular activity.”

Abigail shrugs. “I had to drop out of band to get a job when Mom’s union went on strike for a few months.”

“No matter, you’ll be receiving formal notice within a week.”

Abigail can hardly contain her enthusiasm. She says to Rhiannon, “I don’t believe this actually worked.”

“I said it would,” Rhiannon says. “Once she met you how could she say no?”

The door to the study opens and a young man with ginger hair, who appears to be Abigail’s age enters.

“Here you are,” he says to Elspeth, then notices Abigail and Rhiannon. “Oh, hey.”

Elspeth regards him with suspicion. “Neil, why are you out of school?”

“They let us out because of graduation.”

“Did they?”

“Yeah, we had practice this morning and they said we could leave.”

Neil turns his eyes back to Rhiannon and Abigail. To Abigail he says, “Do you know Jillian?”

“I don’t think so,” Abigail says. “Who is she?”

“She’s my sister,” Neil says. “You kind of remind me of her.”

“This is Ms. Worthy, an — associate of mine, and her daughter Abigail.”

“Cool. Can I borrow the van? The guys want to practice.”

“I suppose so,” Elspeth says. “If I were to call the school, I assume they’d confirm your version of events.”

“Call, I don’t care.” To Abigail, he says, “Do you play?”

“I played saxophone in the band at school, also guitar, and I sing.”

“We should jam sometime.” He steps over and kisses Elspeth on the cheek. “Thanks, Mom.” He waves to Abigail and Rhiannon as he exits. “See you around.”

Neil exits.

“If you didn’t already figure it out, that’s my youngest, Neil.”

“Do I really look like his sister?”

“I wouldn’t mistake you for her, but there’s a resemblance.” She points to a photo on a table near Rhiannon. “That’s her in the middle. Probably when she was around your age.”

Rhiannon picks up the picture and holds it so Abigail can see. It features Neil, much younger, a girl around Abigail’s age and an older young man. Abigail bears a slight resemblance to the girl.

“This is your oldest son, right?” Rhiannon says, to which Elspeth nods. Rhiannon shakes her head. “He definitely looks like his father.”

“Fortunately, he got his temperament from my side of the family.”

Rhiannon replaces the photo. “One thing I’ve always wondered about. You’ve never asked me for any proof that Abby is Danny’s daughter.”

Elspeth laughs. “Being married to Daniel was proof enough.” She sits up in her chair. “Is there anything more you need from me?”

“I think we’re squared away,” Rhiannon says.

“I have the garden club coming in an hour and will need to coordinate with the caterer.”

Elspeth walks them back to the front door.

“I would wish you luck, Abigail, but luck is for those who don’t value hard work, and it sounds like you do. Please check in once in a while to let me know how you’re doing.”

“I’ll do my best.” She and Elspeth shake hands.

“As for you, Ms. Worthy, let’s keep any further reunions few and far between.”

“No problem there.”

She and Abigail exit and go to their car. As they’re driving away, Rhiannon says, “What was that you were saying about this being a bad idea?”

“I still think it was crazy,” Abigail says, “but you were right.”

“Elspeth is a good woman. She’s only ever wanted to do what was right.” Rhiannon reaches over and runs her hand over Abigail’s hair. “Of course it’s easy to impress someone when you’re a superstar.”

“Mom.”

“It’s true. Just remember, I’m always here for you, kiddo.”

“I love you, Mom.”

Worthy, Part 4


When Rhiannon discovers she’s pregnant, she’s not sure how Daniel will react. Together, alone, he always talks of them being together, but when she encounters him at the hospital, it’s as though they hardly know one another outside of their professional association. When she does tell him, one evening at her apartment, his reaction is almost clinical, absorbing the info, carefully considering it, but otherwise displaying nothing on how it affects him.

“And you’re certain that —”

“Don’t even finish that,” Rhiannon cuts him off. “Of course it is.”

“Of course.”

After several minutes of awkward silence, he tells her he needs time to think things over and leaves. A few nights later, Rhiannon receives an unexpected phone call.

The only person Rhiannon has confided in about the affair is her coworker and best friend, Chip, an older, male, nurse at the hospital. Today, they’re in the cafeteria discussing the latest development.

“When did you get the call?” Chip says.

“Last night, after dinner. I was expecting Danny and thought it was him. Instead it was some woman calling on behalf of Elspeth Hawkins. How do you think she found out?”

“Sweetie, let me clue you in on something. Dr. Hawkins may run this hospital, but it’s Elspeth who calls the shots.”

“You think so?”

“Hello! We work in the Armstrong annex. The one Elspeth Armstrong Hawkins built in memory of her family.”

“I see your point.”

“You’ve not been around that long, but the romance between the dazzling surgeon and the tragic heiress was once the stuff of fairy tales in Portland.”

“I’ve heard something about that, but don’t have a lot of details.”

“It had all the elements of great romance — the fiery crash which instantly killed her father, mother and brother; the handsome doctor who spent eight hours in surgery trying to save her little sister, all in vain. In a single afternoon, she lost her entire family.”

“I feel for her. It can’t be easy to deal with that kind of loss.” 

“You couldn’t tell it by her. Whatever she was feeling, she was a rock in front of the press.”

“Are you serious?”

“Ever see the photo of Jackie Kennedy on Air Force One after the assassination? The one where she’s standing there watching LBJ get sworn in. That’s what it reminded me of.”

“Really?”

“The woman redefined stoicism, let me tell you. Jackie O had nothing on this lady. When rumors started circling that Dr. Hawkins had rushed to her side to comfort her, the press couldn’t get enough.”

“I just wish Danny would contact me.”

“Hate to be the bearer of bad news, buttercup, but you’ve heard the last from him. He’s not even in town. His secretary said he’s at a conference.”

“That can’t be right. He’d have mentioned something like that.”

“It’s over, kid. Time to face the music.”

Rhiannon takes out a tissue, though she manages to hold back tears. 

“I feel like an idiot. I believed everything he told me.”

Chip takes her hand. 

“Life lessons, sweetie. Remember, I’m here for you. You’re not alone.”

She places her free hand on her stomach.

“No. I’m not. But thanks for your support. It means so much.”

On the appointed day, Rhiannon goes to the Hawkins residence. She’s admitted by a nervous, but efficient woman who introduces herself as Nan, Elspeth’s assistant and gives several stern rules for interacting with Elspeth. 

“No excitement, no physical contact,” she says. “I’ll be just outside in case there’s any drama.”

“I’m just planning to talk to her,” Rhiannon says. 

“Remember what I said,” the assistant warns.

Rhiannon is led down a short hallway and into a study, where Elspeth sits in an overstuffed chair. She thanks the assistant and dismisses her. 

Elspeth is at least ten years older than Rhiannon and seven or eight months pregnant. While she appears to have made every effort to put on a good facade, Rhiannon can’t help but notice that she looks tired. Still, she gives Rhiannon a pleasant smile, and directs her to sit on the sofa.

“Can I offer you anything?” she says.

“I’m okay.”

“If you change your mind.”

Rhiannon nods. 

“Do you mind if I ask when you’re due?” Rhiannon says. 

“Not at all. The doctor tells me mid-March.”

“Your third, correct?”

“That’s right. I’ve managed to space them several years a part, but that doesn’t make the process any easier.”

“Tell me about it.”

“How far along are you?”

“Month, month and a half.”

Elspeth sighes.

“I suppose we could continue to exchange pleasantries for a while longer, if you prefer.”

“I doubt it will make this any less awkward. I’d rather we just get down to it.”

Elspeth nods. “You may think I’m angry with you, Ms. Worthy, but I’m not. Rather I feel sorry for you. I can only imagine what Daniel’s told you about our marriage and what his plans for you were.”

“I suspect you have a reasonable idea.”

“Maybe I do. No matter. We’re here to discuss what it’s going to take for you to move past this.”

“What makes you think I can move past it?”

“Regardless of what you’ve been told by my husband, there’s no future for your relationship. Unlike you, he entertains no such notions. Daniel likes to feel he’s in control and his occasional dalliances give him that illusion. It sometimes becomes necessary to remind him what’s at stake.”

“You seem to have this down to a science,” Rhiannon says. 

Elspeth regards her with a half smile.

“I’ve been married to Daniel for fifteen years. Do you honestly believe this is the first time I’ve had to deal with a situation like this?”

“Why do you put up with it?”

“In the world I inhabit, that’s what women do. We protect our families no matter what.”

Rhiannon leans forward.

“I’ll make this easy for you, Elspeth. I don’t want your money or the strings that go with it.”

“That’s all well and good but I need assurances there will be no trouble from you.”

“As a matter of fact, I’m thinking of returning to Seattle. A hospital there has made me an offer.”

“Yes. I’m aware of that.”

Rhiannon considers this.

“I see. Then you’ll be happy to know I’m going to take it. That should put enough distance between me and Danny. Plus I have a mother who needs me and will probably command most of what little free time I’ll have. You won’t be hearing from me again.”

“What are you going to do about the child?”

Rhiannon looks her in the eye.

“I protect my family as well.”

Elspeth nods.

Rhiannon rises and heads for the door. Elspeth calls after her.

“Taking care of an invalid parent is very expensive, particularly with a child on the way. Perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the assistance I’m offering.”

Rhiannon turns.

“I see your point.” She remains where she’s standing while she considers it. “I want my mother to have the best care available. Currently my sister’s paying for the facility she’s in. It’s adequate, but could be much better. Plus, I want to relieve my sister of that burden.”

“Nothing for you?” 

“I told you, I don’t want the strings that go with it. Besides, I make a good salary. At least I guess I still will.”

“You won’t be disappointed.”

Rhiannon nods.

“You weren’t what I was expecting, Ms. Worthy,” Elspeth says. “Good luck.”

Rhiannon smiles.

“Same to you.”

Rhiannon returns to her apartment before allowing herself any tears. Over the next several days, Chip and his partner help her pack up her things. She has no further contact with Daniel or Elspeth.

When her daughter arrives several months later, she names her Abigail Rae, after her parents. 

Worthy, Part 3


Abigail has never before been to a private home that has a parking lot. As they move down the long driveway to the front of the house, she’s struck by the sheer grandeur of the place. She’s certain the building is larger than the high school she attends in Seattle and the surrounding gardens are breathtaking. She almost feels she’s in a movie but can’t decide if it’s a comedy or drama. With Rhiannon in control, it could turn out to be either.

The woman they’re going to see is like a mythical figure to the people in Portland. Elspeth Armstrong Hawkins is a descendant of one of the earliest families of white settlers to the west coast. While many went west looking to make their fortunes in gold, in farming, or in herding, the Armstrongs made theirs by supplying settlers with the necessities to survive. Starting in California, they worked their way up the coast, moving from dry goods and supplies, to general retail, to specialty retail. By the time Elspeth was born, her branch of the family had moved into banking and finance. Elspeth was particularly noted for her philanthropy. Losing her entire immediate family in a car crash when she was in her early twenties, she went on to honor their memories by building hospitals, and funding grants and scholarships for deserving students. Abigail herself had applied for an Armstrong fellowship but was informed she’d just missed the cutoff.

They exit the car and Rhiannon gives Abigail a quick check, straightening her dress and fussing with her hair before declaring everything, “Perfect!”

They go to the door and Rhiannon rings the bell. Elspeth, an older woman with red hair that’s streaked with grey, answers and greets them with a pleasant smile. She’s dressed in a floral top and light slacks and has a dignified air about her. She apparently doesn’t recognize Rhiannon.

“Good morning. What can I do for you ladies?”

Being as close to Elspeth as she now is, Abigail feels a strong sense of apprehension and wishes she was somewhere else.

Rhiannon wastes no time getting to the point.

“Hello again, Elspeth. Rhiannon Worthy. I tried to steal your husband. Remember me?”

Elspeth displays no emotion but stares at Rhiannon for several long seconds.

“Yes, I thought you looked familiar. It’s been a while. What do you want?”

“This is our daughter Abigail — and by ‘our’ I don’t mean you and me.”

“Yes, I know what you mean. Why are you here?”

“May we come in?”

“I can’t imagine how that would be a good idea.”

“I’m pretty sure you don’t want to discuss this on your front doorstep, do you?”

Elspeth looks between Abigail and Rhiannon.

“I knew you’d be back. I just knew it. If this is about money, have your lawyer contact mine.”

“Lawyer?” Rhiannon laughs. “We can’t afford a lawyer. If you refuse to see us, we’ll just go directly to the press.”

Elspeth considers this a moment then addresses Abigail.

“Please tell me she’s bluffing.”

Abigail shakes her head. “No. I wish she was.”

Elspeth considers it a moment then opens the screen door.

“Please, come in.”

Rhiannon nods. “I knew you’d see it my way.”

As they enter, Elspeth says to Abigail, “Is she always like this?”

“I’m afraid so,” Abigail replies.

“You have my deepest sympathy.”

Worthy, Part 2


Rhiannon Worthy came from a family of remarkable women. Her mother, Abigail Padgett Worthy, had not been content to sit at home while her husband managed a newspaper, and instead joined him, becoming one of Seattle’s first women correspondents in the 40s, and when her husband died from cancer, just two years after Rhiannon was born, Abigail took over as managing editor, often carting her young daughter down to the paper with her. Rhiannon’s oldest sister, Raegan, was a talented painter, earning a scholarship to study in Paris during her junior year of high school, and the middle daughter, Rosalind had a high aptitude for science and the fledgling field of computing. Rhiannon had been the surprise child in her family, born when Raegan was sixteen and Rosalind fourteen, so she wasn’t very close to her older sisters as a child.

As accomplished as Abigail and her two oldest daughters were, they also had many problems, as mental illness ran in Abigail’s family. When she was a child, Raegan sometimes heard voices, whispers at first, but as a she grew older, the voices grew louder and more urgent. Her first major episode was while she was studying abroad, and caused her to cut short her trip. Ironically, the worse her condition was, the more expressive her work became, earning her several exhibitions before she was twenty. Her mother struggled to help her, especially since Raegan was often uncooperative, frequently going off her medications to fuel her creativity. At last, Abigail had to have Raegan institutionalized. The treatment was effective, but Raegan found she could no longer create. Faced with the prospect of a life without her art, Raegan swallowed a lethal quantity of drain cleaner during one of her visits home. She was twenty-two. As a result, Rhiannon, age six at the time, knew almost nothing about her oldest sister, save for a few details Rosalind would share over the years. Perhaps due to the loss of her older sister, Rosalind endeavored to be a better sibling to Rhiannon. Even though she was in college, Rosalind made every effort to be with her baby sister, looking after Rhiannon when she home, phoning frequently and sending gifts when she was away. While Rosalind also had bouts with paranoia and anxiety, it was a physical and not a mental issue, that afforded her more time with Rhiannon.

Toward the end of her sophomore year, Rosalind was diagnosed with cervical cancer which had spread to her uterus. She underwent a hysterectomy and radiation treatments which left her incapable of conceiving or carrying a child. While starting a family had not been a priority for her, she had never completely ruled out the possibility until her treatment made it impossible. She took more than a year off from school and sank into a major depression. The only bright spot for her was the time she spent with Rhiannon. Eventually, she recovered and continued her studies, but she was grateful for the opportunity she’d had to bond with her remaining sister.

As she got older, Rhiannon’s mother began showing signs of mental illness as well. Shortly after Rhiannon graduated high school, it became necessary for Rosalind to put Abigail into a nursing home. For the first few years, Abigail was able to recognize her daughters but as time went on her memory failed her and each time Rhiannon visited, she saw more of her mother slip away. One consequence of her visits was that Rhiannon had the chance to interact with the nursing staff, and she found the work they did appealing to her.

Rhiannon always worried she, too, would one day have to deal with psychological problems, but she made it through high school and into college without any signs of trouble. While not as talented as her older sister, Rosalind, she also had an aptitude for science, and with all the experience she’d gained from taking care of her mother and the times she spent quizzing the staff at the nursing home, she decided on a career in nursing. She also had an ulterior motive, as she felt it would be a good way to meet a well-to-do doctor. Once she had her degree, she packed her bags and headed to Portland where she’d received an offer from Armstrong Memorial Medical Center. It was here, during a rotation in neurology, that she met the head of the department, Dr. Daniel Winthrop Hawkins, and began an affair with him.

Worthy, Part 1


Abigail Worthy steps into the living room of the home she shares with her mother, Rhiannon, and presents herself. She’s dressed in a blue plaid skirt, short-sleeved, pressed, white shirt, with saddle oxfords and light colored socks. Her dark hair is pulled back into a ponytail.

Rhiannon examines her closely and nods.

“This will make the right impression,” she says.

“Mom, I think this is a really bad idea,” Abigail says, knowing no objections on her part will sway her mother’s intentions.

“Who’s the responsible adult here?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?” Abigail replies.

“Speak when spoken to,” Rhiannon admonishes, “and be polite. She at least needs to like you.”

“So it’s good cop, bad cop, eh?”

“That’ll work.”

Abigail sits beside her mother on the couch and releases a frustrated sigh.

“What makes you think she’ll even see us?”

Rhiannon slides to the edge of the couch and opens a notebook that’s on the coffee table in front of her. Inside are photos of an elegant house along with pages of notes and diagrams.

“There’s no gate,” she says, “and the cleaning staff comes in the afternoon before Danny gets home.”

“You mean Dr. Hawkins.”

“To me he’ll always be Danny — the deadbeat creep.”

“He’s not who we’re going to see, right?”

“No, it’s Elspeth, we want to see. She’s the one who pulls the strings in that family.”

“What makes you think she’ll even give us the time of day? Doesn’t she have an assistant who screens callers?”

“Not today. This is the day her assistant, Nan, visits her mother in the assisted living facility.”

“You’re sure it’s today?”

“I told you, the facility’s in our network. I looked her up and made a few calls.”

“Technically, that’s called stalking, I believe.”

“I only followed her the one time. When I saw her turn into Crestwood, I headed back to the hospital and ran a search. We’ve been giving her mother the best of care since her stroke last year — something Nan’s very appreciative of, I should point out.”

“How do you know that?”

“She’s very rules oriented and regularly completes her surveys. We always get high marks from her.”

“Wonderful.”

“Now, when we get there, I do all the talking, unless she questions you, got it?”

“No problem there.”

“Good. Get your jacket and let’s do this.”