"Has everything been going okay?"
"More or less," I told my aunt. "It's been a strange weekend."
I was sitting besides her bed; Mr. Sumerset was standing. My aunt recognized him--I could tell right off that she didn't like him. Probably because the only time they had encountered each other was shortly after my mother's--her sister's--death. Really, that was fine. I don't think Mr. Sumerset liked her, either.
"Did you pay off this month's mortgage?"
"Yeah," I said. "More or less."
"Good," she said, laying back into the bed. "Doctors said I'll be out of here in a few days. Maybe even less."
"Good," I said, and then I added: "There's some things we need to talk about."
Lisa scowled, glancing past me and toward Sumerset. "Is that why he's here?"
"Kind of," I said.
"Yes," Sumerset said.
"Look. Mom--she had some secrets," I explained. "She didn't tell us everything. A few things... a few things about her have come to light, recently."
"Your niece found a letter addressed to me in the attic," Mr. Sumerset said. "It contained specific instructions, along with more than a few revelations."
My aunt's eyebrows wrinkled together. "About what?"
"Mom had an additional bank account," I said. "About fifty thousand dollars in it. Earmarked for me when I hit 18."
My aunt nearly jerked up in her bed. "What?"
"Took some work to track it down," Sumerset said. "Used to be attached to Sue's old college fund account. But I managed to get ahold of it and put it back in under her name."
I reached out a hand out to touch her shoulder. "I used twenty thousand of it to pay off the mortgage. So, y'know. Thirty thousand left."
"I--I thought you said that you couldn't touch it until you were eighteen--"
"I'm identified as the executor of the account until that time," Mr. Sumerset said. "Sue asked me to use the money to pay off the mortgage. It seemed like a sensible investment."
"Oh, thank God. That's--that's wonderful news," she said. "Now we have some money--"
"Now I have some money," I said, bracing myself. This next part wasn't going to be easy. I felt Mr. Sumerset shift to stand behind me--just knowing he was here to back me up helped a lot.
My aunt stared at me, puzzled. I took in a breath and started.
"You aren't in any state to take care of me."
She pulled back, as if she had been struck a physical blow.
When I saw her face--that look of betrayal, of pain--I felt a certain sickness start to swell up in my stomach. I felt myself falter--I wanted to pull back, to stop. But then Mr. Sumerset's hand descended down on my shoulder, and he started talking.
"Your niece thinks that the next best place to put that money would be in getting you some help," he said. "And I agree."
"Oh, Jesus," she said, turning away. "Oh, Jesus. This is one of those goddamn interventions or something, isn't it--"
"Shut up," Sumerset said, and I was surprised at the force in his voice. "This your goddamn second coming, woman. We're giving you the opportunity to raise yourself from the dead. Are you aware that your niece came home from the hospital the other day to find some meth-head rummaging through your belongings? This shit stops now. Either you clean up your act or you get the hell out of her life."
It was like she was being lectured by an adult. My aunt's eyes were starting to tear up; with each word, she seemed to shrink down smaller and smaller. When Sumerset was finished, she spoke in a tiny, desperate little voice: "Can... Can I go home for just a little while?"
I was about to open my mouth, about to say yes--and Sumerset cut me off.
"You don't step a foot in that house until you're one hundred percent clean. If you try, I will make it my life's work to inspire in you a phobia of legal proceedings so deep and absolute that you will piss your britches at the mere sight of a gavel. Hell, you'll piss two britches--you'll put the second pair on, just to piss them."
When Sumerset got going, he could be a force of nature. I never wanted to see this man opposite of me in a courtroom. I reached out a hand to touch his arm, trying to get him to pull back.
"I want you to get help," I told her. "Once you're clean, we can--you can go back to raising me, if you want. But... you need this, okay?"
She was crying. Sobbing. But when I touched her arm, she reached out to hug me.
"Okay," she said. "I'll do it."