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Unravel by Michelle Johnson-Lane

Novel By: M J Lane
Literary fiction

The Maxwells have it all - family, fame and fortune. There are some things money just can't buy - keeping a love one alive and kept secrets from another with a clandestine past. Find out how this matriarch handles keeping her family together through many trials and tribulations. Things change drastically for the Maxwells when a covert life begins to inevitably UNRAVEL.
Tilly Maxwell, a rich widow, has been holding secrets since youth. She is a mother of four majorly different children. Tilly’s oldest daughter, Melissa, who is inquisitive by nature; stumbles upon something she had no business finding and begins to unravel her mother’s clandestine past. Tilly’s children want her to confess what she's been hiding for so many years. One can only imagine the few crimes Tilly’s committed to keep her past under a tight wrap, like bribery and possibly even murder. View table of contents...



Submitted:Sep 23, 2011    Reads: 20    Comments: 1    Likes: 1   


There's Nothing Like Family


The Maxwells were gathering for Thanksgiving dinner at Tilly's mansion on her gorgeous twelve-acre ocean view property in Portland, Maine. Her four children and most of her grandchildren were raised in this home. It had been almost two years since the Maxwell family had all come together. Everyone had arrived to celebrate the holiday season except Tilly's oldest son, Malcolm, from Georgia and youngest daughter, Patricia, from Texas who were flying in fifteen minutes apart. They were being picked up from the regional airport by her oldest daughter, Melissa. Tilly's youngest son, Chris just pulled up in the horseshoe-shaped driveway. Before going inside, he checked his voicemail messages and made a few calls from his iPhone.

"Hey Love! . . . I just called to let you know I've arrived safely at the Queen's home. . . . The drive from Mississippi was peaceful, but really long. . . . The royal family should all be here, but I won't know for sure until I get inside. . . . I wish you could be here too. . . . Yes, I'm going to be here two weeks visiting my family. . . . Oh, shoot, I just remembered something. . . . I need you to do me a favor. . . . After you get to work, can you check to make sure things are straight for the weekend? . . . Listen love, I really must get going before my mother comes out here wondering why I'm still sitting in the car. . . . I'll call you later. . . . Toodles!" After disconnecting that call, he dialed his business partner, got his voicemail and left him a message.

Tilly had been a widow for over thirty years. When she was not at the country club or shopping, her life consisted of spending quality time with her grandchildren. Every Sunday after church service, they all enjoyed ice skating at the rink.

Tilly's children had majorly different lifestyles. Malcolm was a prominent District Court Judge in Atlanta, Georgia. He was happily married to Giselle. They had two children, Sylvia and Brian. Melissa, a divorcée who was raising her daughter, Maggie, worked as a journalist for the Maine Examiner. She was living in the guest quarters of her mother's 7,500 square foot mansion. Chris, the quiet one from the bunch, was living the edgy and risky life in Mississippi. He and his business partner ran a gambling and bootleg joint. Tilly's youngest child was Patricia, who preferred to be called 'Trish.' She had four children out of wedlock: twin boys, Patrick and Tristen, and her daughters, Kayla and Shannon. Trish's childrenwere being raised by Tilly with the assistance of a nanny since she chose to experience the wilder side of life on the streets of Houston. Trish had her priorities all mixed up. It was obvious this matriarch's hands were full with seven grandchildren who affectionately called her 'Gammy Tilly.'

Tilly believed a child should stay in a child's place. She was firm, but intensely affectionate. The family had strong values and kept family mattersclose to home. She felt it was crucial her children come to her with their problems. After they became adults, they knew to tell her as a last resort because of her controlling and enabling ways. Tilly told them life was like a roller coaster ride; going through ups and downs and loop-arounds, eventually coming to a full stop. She promisedto hold their hands until her ride was over.

Tilly had always been wealthy. She had inherited her grandparents' massive estate, although she had no memory of them. She lost her parents by age ten. The mere subject always saddened Tilly, therefore, she would quickly skip the topic to ward off becoming emotional. She had to be strong all her life to prevent appearing vulnerable. It was rare to see Tilly shedding tears.

As Melissa drove in silence, but carefully on the icy roads to pick up her brother and sister, she thought about the last family gathering. Melissa prayed that Trish had beaten her drug addiction and hoped she was now ready to relieve their mother from taking care of her children.

She began to reflect back on their childhood and remembered how Malcolm had always been overprotective of Trish which intensified when shenearly drowned in the ice pond. It happened when Malcolmturned his back to pick up her favorite doll that she had dropped. He saved her life by pulling her up through the frigid ice and getting her to the hospital just in the nick of time. This made them even closer. At that time, Malcolm was seventeen with a valid driver's license and Trish was just six. Tilly had always left a magnetic spare car key under the cars, just in case of an emergency. Trish always said that she believed Malcolm was her guardian angel because he had always been there to help her through many close calls.

When Melissa turned the radio on, the local weatherman announced that there would be ice and sleet for most of the day. The roads, cold and slick, had been treacherous for many drivers. She finally arrived safely and took the first spot found on the lower deck of the airport's parking garage.

Just before Malcolm and his family met Trish, she had quickly removed most of her disguise. It appeared Trish had arrived home safely. She continued to look over her shoulders in search of goons, who had been on a hunt to find her over the past four days.

Malcolm and his family greeted Trish with open arms and kisses at the same time Melissa strolled through the sliding doors to pick them up.

"How's my baby sister?" Malcolm asked looking her once over, noticing her body trembling and her bruised nose.

"Oh...um...I'm hanging in there," Trish replied with a dry cough. "I've got a little cold, but otherwise, I'm OK."

"Did you have a good flight?" Malcolm kissed Trish on the forehead, holding her tight.

His second hug gave the impression it had been a while since they last saw one another. Malcolm sensed something was wrong, but reserved questioning her until later.

"I'm nauseated from the bumpy flight. You know how much I hate flying." Trish coughed again. She lied to Malcolm so he wouldn't suspect her suffering from drug withdrawals.

"Come on. Let's go get our luggage," Malcolm said with his wife and children trailing behind them. "Hopefully, Melissa is here already to take us to Mom's. Trish, we missed you on Labor Day."

"Yeah, I know. I couldn't get off from work."

Trish was not in the mood to talk and kept the conversation short. She wanted so badly to cry on Malcolm's shoulder after she safely escaped from her abusive pimp in Houston.

Trish was glad to be back home in Portland, but knew there was unfinished business with her mother because she neglected to take back her children over a year ago.

Even though Melissa was a journalist, she battled with her anxiety of large crowds and took a deep breath to help get relaxed. Melissa's palms were sweaty and heart pounding a mile a minute. In order to remain calm, she quietly counted backwards from ten. It didn't help relieve her nervous tension as she watched the masses of jet-lagged passengers rushing to get to their destination. Melissa looked forward to finding her family, but dreaded navigating through the crowd. So, she tried to cheat by standing on her tippy toes to get a better look over the peoples heads. No such luck, she thought and pressed forward.

Melissa successfully found her family at the baggage claim. She barely recognized her sister because Trish was nothing but skin and bones. Trish had heavy dark circles under her red eyes, her hair half-combed and she wore an oversized rumpled trench coat. Melissa was in awe as she witnessed Malcolm and Trish's unique bond still as strong as Crazy Glue. Melissa kept her eyes fixated on them through the sea of arrivals. She made her way past all the shoving and grunting.

Melissa respectfully said with arms stretched out wide, "You look great, brother!"

"Ahhh... thank ya, thank ya, thank ya!" said Malcolm, puffing up his chest.

"It even looks like you lost some weight." She then hugged Giselle, Sylvia and Brian.

When Melissa turned to face Trish, she became concerned because it looked like Trish's Houston lifestyle was wearing her down from head to toe. Trish knew her siblings had noticed how awful she looked, but pretended not to be ashamed and had her guard up.

Melissa extended her arms to hug Trish and asked, "How's life treating you, little sister?"

Trish barely hugged Melissa.

"I'm surviving," said Trish, looking away. "I just want to see our family for now."

Malcolm knew that meant she was confessing her need for help andwanted to berescuedagain from some type of trouble. For now, the conversation was on hold. As they all waited a while for their luggage, Trish kept going into the bathroom. She tried to shake off the horrible side-effects of the street drug, 'Hook', purging from her system.

Once everyone had their suitcases, they all headed to the parking garage. They looked like a family of ducks strolling through the airport with Malcolm and Melissa leading the way.

Malcolm placed the luggage in the trunk. Sylvia and Brian climbed in the back row seats. Malcolm and Giselle took the middle row captain seats, while Trish sat up from with Melissa. The children listened to their iPods, while Giselle finished reading the last chapter of a romance novel.

During the car ride, Melissa talked about her new promotion and her travels for headline stories. Trish grew disgusted because Melissa had a habit of talking about her life; not leaving room for anyone else to get a word in edgewise. Malcolm sensed Trish's annoyance and interrupted Melissa by asking about their mother. Melissa told them of Tilly's wittiness the older she got.

"Just the other day, I noticed an envelope from a mental hospital sticking out of Mom's jewelry box." Melissa looked at Malcolm through her rear view mirror, then asked, "Do you know anything about this?"

Malcolm shook his head after checking his collective memory.

Trish purposely ignored Melissa's question.

Melissa continued, "When I questioned her about it, she asked, why I was prying through her personal belongings. I knew that was her way to avoid answering my question and her attempt at pulling a guilt trip on me."

Malcolm's eyebrow rose. He had a look of curiosity all over his face.

Trish shouted at Melissa, "I'm sick of you, Melissa! Where is your respect for Mom's privacy!? You had know business going through her things like that! Why bring your job as the big-time journalist into our mother's home, huh?"

"Calm down, Trish," Malcolm said, rubbing her shoulder. "I'm sure Melissa has an explanation for snooping through Mom's things." Malcolm then winked at Melissa through her rear view mirror. "Now, give her a chance to explain."

"Mom asked me to get her blood pressure medicine from her bathroom." Melissa said glancing back at Malcolm. "You all know how anal she is about cleanliness. It drew my attention because it's so out of character for her to have an untidy armoire. That's the only reason why I noticed it. I'm sorry. I guessmy curious nature gotthe best of me."

Trish looked over at her sister, rolled her eyes and then gazed out of the window. She took in thefamiliarsights as they drove closer to home. No one spoke a word for the remainder of the trip. Soft jazz played as they continued driving along through sleet and ice.

When Melissa pulled up in front of the house, Brian and Sylvia raced inside to greet their grandmother with hugs and kisses with their mother in tow.

Giselle said, "Slow down you two before you slip and fall!"

Trish awkwardly got out of the car and slammed the door. She cupped her mouth, held her stomach and rushed into the mansion. Chris was enthralled in a phone conversation with his business partner when he noticed some of his family rushing by him. He quickly disconnected his call after he saw Malcolm and Melissa talking beside her SUV.

"Trish must be coming down from her high and making me her target," Melissa said to Malcolm.

"She's got a bad cold and it's made her cranky," Malcolm said, protecting Trish from something that he had no idea of.

"Yeah... OK," Melissa said in disbelief. "This envelope I found postmarked over forty years ago had Mom's name on it. It had been opened and I couldn't help but be curious, Malcolm. I wonder what's going on?"

"I have no idea, but there's something odd about this," Malcolm said in his professional, but concerned tone. "We'll talk about it later. I need to check on Trish. We both know she is not doing well because, look, she left her pocketbook and luggage in the car." Malcolm pointed inside the car toward the floor where Trish's pocketbook sat.

As they both headed towards the house, Chris jumped out of his Aston Martin and warmly greeted his siblings. "How are my favorite brother and sister doing?"

Malcolm said, "Great! How are things in the South?"

"Hmmph! Busy as a honey bee.

"Are you just getting here?" Melissa asked as she pecked Chris on the cheek.

"I got here about ten minutes ago, but had to make a few calls before I went inside." Chris continued, "Trish didn't look so hot. What's going on now?"

"Who knows!? That's what we were just talking about." Melissa said and Malcolm shook his head in agreement. "Why don't you guys go ahead. I need to grab something from the house. I'll be right there." She gently touched Chris on the shoulder, turned and walked away.


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