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never again, forever

Chapter 1

Charles Dickens be damned: Rose Stanton knew she was living in the worst of times. "This wasn’t supposed to happen. For years we were told, promised, that the world had learned from past mistakes, that it would be impossible for this to happen. They keep saying ‘never again’. When the hell is ‘never again’ going to really mean ‘forever’?"

She balled up the shirt in her hand, wanting to crush it, then threw it against the wall. "How the hell long will we be living in a house of cards? How could they let this happen when everyone saw it coming?" Pressing her back to the wall, she slid down it until she sat on her haunches, staring blankly as she fought another round of tears. Barney tilted his head, watched her, whined in reply. Allowing a love smile to poke at one corner of her mouth, she reached out for his head, held it, kissed him between velvet ears. "So much for all those smart people, right? The one thing I know for sure; there will always be laundry to do."

The laundry was in three piles. At one time, Rose would have separated by color, by weight of the material, by the amount of dirt in the clothes. Today, she filled the laundry sink with water, added a spoonful of soap, and dropped the boys’ work clothes in to soak. The second pile she slipped into the washing machine, set it for a cold water quick wash, and checked her watch before she pushed the ‘start’ button. The third pile she gathered in her arms and carried to the table.

The kitchen door slammed shut.

"Boots!" she shouted across the room. "Get them off. I don’t have time to be washing floors today." She held up a towel, examined it, and folded it, adding it to the growing pile.

Todd stuck his head around the corner, a sheepish grin on his round face, then lifted a socked foot up as proof he had complied. Rose grimaced as she saw the hole. He tried to hide it by curling up his toes.

"Is it lunchtime yet?"

She smiled back, giggled at the predictability of the question, and stretched to kiss her son on the cheek. "Almost. Did you get the work done outside?"

With a strong, confident step, Todd strode to the fridge, grabbed the pen dangling from a worn piece of ribbon, and scratched some numbers on the pad of paper stuck by magnet to the door. "You don’t have your laundry times down here yet."

"Twenty-six minutes for the load that’s in right now. The next one will be thirty-eight." She knew the look he threw her. "The clothes were really dirty. They were your work clothes and they need the extra time. Don’t worry. We won’t run short."

"It’s just that the generator only stores so much, and we don’t want to run short when the wind goes down."

"I know, son. I won’t run anything else today, other than the fridge. Thank God... and you... we still have a fridge."

Todd hung his head, shuffled to the sink to fill the kettle. "Sorry, Mom. I know you keep track. It’s just…"

"I know, too, Hon. It’s an adjustment for all of us." She folded another towel. "The biggest adjustment is going to be for Grant to remember that towels don’t need to be washed when they’ve only been used once. The same with his regular clothes. He wears them for an hour and throws them in the hamper. It has to stop." She stared at the towel in her hand, lost in thought, chewing on her bottom lip.

"I’ll remind him, Mom. You don’t always have to be the one to make us toe the line. We’ll figure out the laundry thing."

She beamed her pride at him. "We will. Make sure you put the kettle back on the wood stove. We’ll need more wood in, too."

"I’ll take care of the firewood. Don’t I always? Now… lunch?"

The door slammed again.


Amid a string of muttered oaths, one heavy boot thumped onto the floor around the corner. "Where the hell do you want me to leave these clothes? They probably should be washed right away, or rinsed anyways."

Rose gave Todd a curious frown, dropped the shirt she was folding, and headed towards the door. The sight of her oldest son made the blood race to her feet. Her hand clamped tight to her mouth, either stifling a scream or containing a tsunami of nausea. She felt Todd’s hands on her shoulders, knew he was standing behind her. His breath was warm, reassuring on her neck. "What the hell…?"

Each movement deliberate, Grant unbuttoned his shirt, pulled it off and dropped it to the floor. His t-shirt was also blood-soaked. His trousers dripped crimson. He was an old twenty-two-year-old, his jaw set, teeth clenched, eyes piercing. "I need to get a clean uniform, then get back to work." He looked into his brother’s face, defiant, then to his mother’s and softened slightly. "I tried to stop him. There were rumors running all over town, so I was trying to keep an eye on him." He shrugged. "I just couldn’t be everywhere at once. As soon as the call came in, I knew.

"Oscar Brownleigh’s been struggling. His store went tits-up, the bank was foreclosing on him, and his kid, the youngest one…."

"Tammy?" Rose’s could barely get the name out.

"Yeah, that’s it, Tammy. She was just diagnosed with lymphoma. It was too much." He shook his head, moved into the kitchen and dropped onto a chair. His hands rubbed at very short-cropped hair, a futile attempt to massage away the headache Rose knew was there. "We got the report of a gunshot. I knew. I just fucking knew." An oath worthy of admonishment, one her boys took care not to use in her presence, Rose let pass without comment. She knew Grant would hate himself for letting it slip, and it was extra baggage he didn’t need. If his father was still alive, then… if…

"I got over there, tried to talk to him. Kris and Tammy were already dead. I knew by looking at them. The two boys, though, Jackson and Philip… there might have been a chance to save them. He had already shot them, too, and they were bleeding like crazy, but if I just could have talked him down, we could have helped them all."

Rose pulled out a chair, slowly lowered herself to sit facing her son, held his hands in hers, ignoring the blood. "You can’t keep doing this, Grant. This is killing you inside."

Grant looked deep into her eyes. "Mom, we both know I have to keep this job. I’m one of the few who still has a regular paycheque. These people here need help. Things are going to get a hell of a lot worse before they get better. They need someone to help them, someone they can come to and trust. Who the hell else can they trust?"

He stood, loosened his belt and headed towards his bedroom. "I’ll get some clean clothes on. It freaks people out to have the local cop walking around like this. I’ll drop the dirty ones in to soak, and then maybe a quick bite?"

"There are already clothes soaking in the back. I’ll take care of them and get some water ready for these. They need to be on their own to soak, but I’ll wash them with the others." Rose pulled Todd’s head down to her level, planted a kiss amidst his wild, red hair. "Be a good boy. There is some soup in the cold room. Put it on the woodstove, then cut some of the fresh bread from this morning. I’ll be right back."

She trotted towards the laundry room, but stopped in the doorway. Pleading eyes turned towards both boys. "We can’t let this happen to us. We have to remember that nothing… nothing… is worth taking our own lives. It’s just money and possessions that are the problem. We can manage. Come hell or high water, we can manage."


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