Saucy Secrets 25

By the time summer came into full swing, Johnny, Lemon, and I were settling in nicely in our new home…the Landgraab Estate. Johnny resumed his career in stand up and I was able to get my job back at Queenie’s favorite restaurant. Even amidst our busy schedules, we still made plenty of time for each other and Lemon. Honestly, our relationship had never been better…we were even discussing the possibility of having another child in the near future. Things were finally looking up.

4

On a particularly nice day, we hosted a cookout and invited our friends and family. I was running myself ragged making sure that everyone had refreshments when I heard my mom mention the word “wedding.” I stopped next to her and placed the bowl of chips I’d been carrying down on the table. “Wait a minute…you and Geoffrey are getting married?” I asked with my jaw hanging open. “Yes! This fall!” My mom smiled back at me excitedly. “Why am I always the last to know these things?” I teased her with a smirk. “Well, I was planning to announce it during dessert but you know me, I’m horrible at keeping secrets.” She laughed. “But now that I have your attention, I have something important to ask you…will you be my matron of honor?” She looked up at me shyly. “I’d love to!” I squealed then hugged her neck. “I’m so happy for you!”

5

I straightened up and cleared my throat. “Now don’t get too full! I’m making Italian meatballs for dinner!” I loudly reminded everyone while they munched away happily on chips and dip. “Oooh, that sounds yummy!” Eva exclaimed. “Yeah, Val is turning out to be quite the chef.” My mom beamed at me with pride. “She made spaghetti for us the other night and I think she may have put something special in it because it was the best I ever had.” Johnny joined in with the compliments. “You’ll have to show me how to make these meatballs of yours. I bet they’re going to be delicious.”

6

“It’s an old family recipe.” I murmured as I thought of Queenie. From the corner of my eye, I could see Nancy in her wheelchair. She was pretty harmless but I was always on high alert whenever she was around. My mom was still going on about the damn meatballs when Nancy turned her head in my direction. I held my breath as her empty gaze rested on my face. I had the horrible feeling that one day she was just going to snap out of it. Silly, I know. I narrowed my eyes at her then sighed and shook my head. I was getting myself worked up for nothing again. Feeling confident once more, I focused my attention back on the rest of my guests. “I make everything with love.” I told them with a sly smile. “But the real secret…is in the sauce.”

The End.

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Saucy Secrets 24

We all met with a lawyer before Queenie’s funeral a few days later. It really came as no surprise to anyone that she left her entire fortune to her great-grandchildren, Lemon and Mac. “Is that it?” Johnny tried to suppress a yawn without appearing rude. He’d been released from the hospital the day before and while he was recovering quickly, he was still tired all the time. “Not quite. Let’s discuss your mother now.” The lawyer stated without looking up from her computer. “But why?” Malcolm asked. “She’s not dead.” She peered at us over her glasses. “I’m aware of that but she has a living will in the event that something happened to her before her death that left her unable to communicate.”

1

She pointed to a stack of files on her desk. “Mrs. Landgraab states that she isn’t to be put in an assisted living facility and that she would want to live out the remainder of her days with her family. The son that takes on this burden will inherit her company and all of it’s assets. The other son will receive her estate.” No one spoke while all of the details sunk in. “We’ll take her.” Malcolm declared solemnly. Johnny rested his hand on his shoulder. “Are you sure, little brother?” He met Johnny’s eyes fleetingly and nodded. “Someone has to do it.” He muttered. I stared at Malcolm’s wife, Siobahn, until she noticed me. She shrugged and smiled. I suppose Nancy wasn’t much of a threat anymore but still, Siobahn was a much stronger woman than I could ever be.

2

As we said our goodbyes to Queenie that afternoon, I held my small family close to me and reflected on the events that led up to this moment. Queenie’s good reputation had been tarnished when she took the rap for poisoning Nancy. According to the police, she admitted everything to them when she called for help on that fateful night. My name never came up though and while I should’ve been relieved that I’d gotten away with helping her, I didn’t feel good about it. I was far from innocent. Nancy had already woken up and was in a vegetative state. She wouldn’t be able to exact her vengeance on us ever but it still wasn’t worth losing Queenie over. My guilt had me on edge…but it was just another thing that I would have to learn to live with.

3

“I need just a moment longer if that’s okay.” I told Johnny when it was time to head to the cemetery. “You can leave Lemon with me.” He put her in a chair then leaned over to kiss my cheek. “Take your time.” He murmured in my ear. “I’ll be in the car.” I walked up to Queenie’s silver casket and trailed my fingers over the ornate silver casing. “Thank you.” I sobbed loudly and covered my face with my hands. “Thank you for everything.”

Saucy Secrets 23

I took a hot shower when I finally got back to the hospital and furiously scrubbed at my skin but sadly enough, I couldn’t wash away my guilt. After I was as clean as I was going to get, I climbed into bed with Johnny and laid my head across his chest. “I did it for us.” I whispered even though I knew he wasn’t listening. The sound of his heartbeat eventually lulled me to sleep…for a while at least because there came a knock at the door about an hour later. I opened it to find a detective wanting to speak to Johnny. “He’s resting right now but I’m his wife. You can tell me anything he needs to hear.” I smiled at him politely. “I’m awake.” Johnny croaked from behind us. “I can talk.”

22

Eva came in while Johnny was still in a deep conversation with the detective. My nerves were completely shot so she was a welcome distraction. “Val, have you checked your voicemail lately? You should’ve called me back!” She hissed in my ear as she hugged me. “I got caught up in some things but I’m here now.” I told her vaguely. She was my best friend but I still didn’t want her to know what I’d done. “Child Protective Services came here looking for Lemon last night! Luckily your mom and Geoffrey had her tucked away with them.” I stared at her in disbelief. Even in death, Nancy was still messing with me.

23

“Where is she now?” I demanded to know. “She’s still with them. They’ll bring her back when they know it’s safe.” She narrowed her eyes at me. I was sure she was wondering what exactly had happened during my visit to Nancy’s house and why I wasn’t talking about it. But she let it go. “So is it safe for her to come back?” Eva asked. “I think so.” I mumbled and looked at the detective still perched on Johnny’s hospital bed. They didn’t seem to be discussing me. Maybe I was in the clear after all. Suddenly the detective stood to leave. “Mrs. Zest.” He nodded to me on his way out. “What’s going on?” I asked Johnny as soon as the door closed behind him.

24

“Val…I know what I was told but I’m having a lot of trouble trying to swallow it.” He moaned and sat upright. “They’re saying that my grandmother poisoned my mother and had a heart attack while trying to flee the scene. She didn’t make it.” I was floored by the news of Queenie’s passing. “I’m so sorry, Johnny.” My voice shook as I put my arms around him and kissed the top of his head. “I know how much she meant to you. I loved her too.” I held him while he cried. “What about your mother? Is she okay?” I pretended to sound concerned. “She’s here actually.” I struggled to keep my face neutral. “She’s in a coma. The doctors are doing everything they can for her but it doesn’t look good. Even if she somehow pulls through, she’ll likely have brain damage.” He wiped his face and looked up at me pitifully. “How awful.” Was the only thing I could think to say but it seemed to be enough for Johnny. Only I knew the truth and it was the one secret that I would take to my grave.

Saucy Secrets 22

Nancy collapsed to the floor near our feet. “Is she dead?” I gasped and took a step back. Queenie bent down and with a trembling hand, she searched for a pulse. “She’s breathing but just barely. We should wait a few more minutes before calling it in to the police. If we’re lucky they’ll think she overdosed on one of her many natural herbs she has lying about.” I shook my head and ran my fingers through my hair anxiously. “No! We can’t!” I blurted out. “If we wait any longer, we’ll be murderers! I don’t think I can live with that!” Queenie gave me a hard stare. “Valerie, don’t you dare lose your composure now. We did what needed to be done.”

19

“But I didn’t want to kill her!” I paced back and forth while Queenie busied herself with cleaning the kitchen and wiping down the counters. She was destroying any evidence that could tie us to what happened to Nancy. “I just wanted to hurt her as badly as she hurt all of us!” I was trying to make myself feel better. “And so we did.” Queenie pointed out bluntly and motioned for me to follow her to the living room. “What am I going to say to Johnny?” I asked worriedly. “He’ll never forgive me when he finds out that I had something to do with her death. Even though I don’t understand how he can…he loves her so much. It’s his mother for crying out loud! I have to tell him. Don’t I?” I fretted.

20

“You’ll do no such thing!” Queenie whirled around and jabbed her finger in my face. “He’s been through enough because of her. She was a parasite that fed on him for far too long and we’ve finally granted him his freedom. We’re all free of her now.” She declared. “I should’ve taken her boys and fled the country. I could’ve raised them as my own. But I was too old. Too tired.” She had a faraway look in her eyes. “I’m responsible for everything that’s happened.” She mumbled hollowly. “Don’t say that…it’s not true.” I hugged her frail form close to my body. “I won’t live to see it but I hope Lemon grows up to be just like you. Kindhearted and feisty when she needs to be. Do right by her.” She murmured into my ear. ‘I will, I promise.” I whispered back.

21

“It’s time for you to leave now, Valerie.” She pulled away from me and took her cell from the pocket of her robe. “Get the clothes you changed out of on your way out and burn them along with the ones you’re wearing. It’s probably not worth the trouble but it’s better to be safe than sorry.” She began punching numbers into the dial-pad. “Keep calm if you’re questioned by the police later….you have nothing to worry about.” She told me. “You’ve already got an alibi. You left during dinner in a hurry…we all saw it. If we missed anything else, I’ll take care of it. Now go!” She barked loudly. I could hear her speaking into her phone as I ran from the room. “Yes, I’d like to report a murder.”

Saucy Secrets 21

We’d just finished adding the garnishing to the meatballs when we heard footsteps on the stairs. “She’s awake. Hide!” Queenie rasped with urgency. A moment later, Nancy drifted into the kitchen and let out a big yawn. She then eyed the platter of meatballs on the counter and grinned with delight. “I knew you were making something delicious down here.” Queenie nodded and smiled innocently. “Have some.” Nancy helped herself to a plateful and perched on a barstool to eat. She was just about to take a big bite when she stopped to cast a suspicious look at her mother. “What did you do to it?” She asked in an accusing tone. “Don’t be silly.” Queenie snatched the fork from Nancy’s hand and stuffed it into her mouth. “There’s nothing wrong with it.” She reassured her as she chewed.

16

My heart was pounding so loudly that I was sure it was going to give away my hiding spot. I was able to let out a small sigh of relief when Queenie spit the poisoned food into her hand once Nancy’s attention was focused on her plate again. Queenie bowed her head in a silent prayer as Nancy took bite after bite. I knew she felt bad about what we were doing to her daughter but Nancy had really left us no other choice. “You used too many herbs this time but it’s still good, mother.” Nancy murmured as she gobbled up every last crumb. “Would you like some more?” Queenie asked her. “No, mother!” She snapped. “I’m trying to watch my figure.”

17

Nancy stood up a little too quickly and staggered from one foot to the other. “I’m so dizzy!” She moaned and tried to steady herself. I stepped out of the shadows so she could see me. “You!” She exclaimed with wide eyes. “How did you get out?” Queenie and I shared a look that told Nancy everything she needed to know. “My own mother! Plotting against me!” She cried out dramatically and clutched her chest. “Why do I feel so horrible all of the sudden? What did you do to me?” She screamed with her eyes blazing. I shrugged nonchalantly. “It seems to me that you bit off more than you could chew, Nancy.”

18

She stomped towards me then paused mid-step. “It burns!” Nancy wailed suddenly and began clawing at her throat to no avail. A green foam trickled down her chin when she opened her mouth to beg for mercy. “Help me! Please! I’ll do anything!” She gurgled and stared at us with pleading eyes. It was hard to watch but at the same time, I couldn’t look away. “What do we do now?” I whispered. “Should we actually call for help?” Queenie came up behind me and put her hand on my shoulder. “No, dear…it’s almost over.”

Saucy Secrets 20

My phone died while I waited for the police to arrive and take me away. It didn’t matter if I had to sleep in a cell for a night or two, I had everything I needed to take Nancy down. Several hours passed before I realized no one was actually coming for me. “Of course she lied.” I growled. After trying to pick the door lock and unsuccessfully open the window, I sat down. “Way to go, Val.” I mumbled to myself as I swiveled around in Nancy’s office chair. I glanced at the time on the computer…it was nearly two in the morning. Suddenly the door flew open. “Valerie?” Queenie peered inside. “I’ve been trying to call you for hours! I grew worried when I couldn’t reach you.”

13

I so badly wanted to hug her neck. “Man, am I happy to see you. I’ve really got to use the bathroom.” I exclaimed with a sheepish smile. “Nancy told us that you left in hurry after she caught you snooping around in here. Something about the way she said it didn’t sit right with me.” I was just glad that someone thought to look for me. “She locked me in here and threatened to call the cops. It was worth it though. You won’t believe the stuff that I found on her computer.” An odd expression passed over Queenie’s face. “It’s best to leave it alone. No one will take you seriously.” She declared rather bluntly. “Wh-what?” I stammered. “Here are some clean clothes.” She handed them to me and began walking away. “Get dressed and meet me in the kitchen.” I followed her down the hall. “An apron? Why?” I asked. “It’s time we give Nancy a taste of her own medicine.” She turned back and gave me a dark look. “Literally.”

14

“You want me to make Italian meatballs?” I repeated after Queenie told me her plan. She shrugged and smiled. “I would do it myself but the arthritis in my hands has flared up. Besides, Nancy watches everything she eats but she just can’t help herself when it comes to her mother’s meatballs.” Queenie appeared sad fleetingly. “Are you sure you want me to go through with this?” I paused from chopping peppers. “Yes.” She nodded then grabbed a small bottle from the cabinet above her head and placed it next to the stove. “Add this to the sauce when it’s ready.” I opened it and looked at the crushed herbs inside. “What is it?” I sniffed the contents of the bottle. “Arnica.” She replied. I’d never heard of it.

15

“So can you tell me about your file on Nancy’s computer?” I peeked at her from the corner of my eye while I stirred the thick tomato sauce. Queenie sighed and thought for a moment before speaking. “I had an affair with a married man while Nancy’s father was still alive. If it’d ever come to light, it would’ve ruined my public image back then.” I raised my eyebrows. “Well what about now?” I pried. “My lover, Gunther, has been dead for at least twenty years but his son, Mortimer, is well known around these parts. I can’t let our past haunt him too.” I knew exactly who she was talking about the. The Goths were local celebrities. “I understand. How much do I use?” I changed the subject and pointed to the bottle. She stared back at me solemnly. “All of it.”

Saucy Secrets 19

While the dining room was still in an uproar, I quietly eased myself into Nancy’s office and began trying to crack the password on her computer. After a few tries I got in…her password was simply “Nancy.” I rolled my eyes and started digging through a folder on her desktop named “Receipts.” It wasn’t long before I came across one for the fire marshal who’d investigated our house for arson. “I knew it!” I muttered through clenched teeth and pounded my fist on her desk. That wasn’t all I found either.

10

In another folder there were tons of pictures and audio files about well known folks from all around town. Nancy wasn’t friends with these people…she was blackmailing them into doing her bidding. Her search history led me to the website where she’d purchased the drugs she used on Johnny. “I’ve got you now.” I hissed under my breath and pulled out my phone to take screenshots of everything. I saw Queenie’s name out of the corner of my eye but I didn’t have time to investigate because the door to the office creaked open then.

11

I stood abruptly and stuffed my hands into my pockets. “I had a feeling I’d find you in here.” Nancy glared at me stoically from the doorway. “What am I going to do with you, Valerie? You’ve been nothing but a headache ever since we met.” She rubbed her temples as she spoke. “What are you going to do about it, Nancy? Stab me with a steak knife?” I sneered. She licked her lips and let out a sharp laugh. “Maybe, just maybe.” We stared each other down. “I’m sure I’ve already overstayed my welcome so I’ll be leaving soon.” She raised a brow at this. “But before I go, I just want to know one thing…why?”

12

“Why?” She mocked me. “My life was perfect before you came in and wrecked it! You took away my son and your whore of a mother took my husband! So now, I’m going to take away something you love.” She gave me a nasty smile. “Lemon.” I whispered. Then I was on her. My fist connected with her jaw and then her ribs. She gasped for breath and shoved me away. “Keep your filthy hands off of me!” She watched me warily as she fixed her hair then smiled again. “You can wait in here while I call the police. I’m going to have them put you right where you belong…a cage.” Then she bolted out of the room before I could get my hands back on her. “Oh and don’t bother screaming, Valerie.” Her voice was muffled as the lock clicked in place. “The door is soundproof.”

Saucy Secrets 18

When I arrived at the Landgraab estate, I walked right in without bothering to knock then I followed the sound of laughter and classical music to the dining room. Of course Nancy was having a dinner party. Malcolm, Siobhan, and Mac were there and seated at the end of the table was Queenie. She shook her head when she noticed me and mouthed for me to leave but I was too angry to take heed of her warning. I stormed to Nancy’s side and waited for her to look at me. She was in the middle of a conversation with none other than Morgan. “Hello, Nancy. I guess my invitation got lost in the mail but I did in fact receive your summons.” I glared down at her. She nearly choked on her glass of wine. “Valerie!” She squealed. “We weren’t expecting you.”

7

“I just find it so sad that your son is lying in a hospital bed while you’re over here having such a good time.” I gave Nancy a nasty smile. Collective gasps came from around the table. “Johnny’s in the hospital?” Queenie repeated and looked to Nancy. “Did you know about this?” She asked her daughter. “What happened to him?” Malcolm appeared concerned. “You should really ask your mother.” I informed him.

8

“Oh, he’s fine!” Nancy laughed awkwardly and refilled her wine glass. “There’s no reason for anyone to worry…it’s just a touch of the flu.” I opened my mouth to call her out on her lies but then she motioned to her lap. She flipped her folded napkin over and revealed the steak knife she had hidden there. “It would do you well to not embarrass me in front of my family, Valerie.” She spoke only loud enough for me to hear. I wasn’t quite sure how to react. Was she really intending to stab me in a room full of people? “Whatever you want to say to me can wait until we have a moment alone. Now pull up a chair and join us for dinner.” I stared at her defiantly and stood my ground. “Really, I must insist.” She scowled.

9

“Come on, Val!” Siobhan had made space for me between herself and Morgan. I sat down then grimaced when I realized Morgan was looking at me. “Hi Valerie!” She chirped. “Piss off.” She frowned and immediately turned her attention back to Nancy. “You should’ve never returned here.” Queenie rasped through gritted teeth. “She made Johnny sick and now she’s trying to take our daughter away from us. I had to come.” Her complexion paled at my words. “That’s awful!” Siobhan gazed at me with pity in her eyes. “I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. Is there anything I can do?” She asked. “Actually there is…can you create a distraction so that I can snoop around?” She nodded her head eagerly. “You’ve got it.” The moment she began screaming at the top of her lungs, I slipped out of the room unseen.

Saucy Secrets 17

“I need to know something.” I told my mom and Geoffrey rather sullenly later that afternoon. “And please…be honest with me.” They looked to each other in confusion but nodded their heads anyways. “How long have you two been seeing each other?” I asked. “A year. Maybe more.” Geoffrey mumbled so quietly that I almost didn’t hear him. “I knew it! This is your fault!” I cried out. “Nancy somehow found out about your affair with my mother and she’s been taking it out on us ever since! Look what she’s done to Johnny!” I pointed to his sleeping form in the hospital bed. “Now she’s trying to get custody of Lemon! She’s claiming that we’re unfit parents!” I threw my court summons in Geoffrey’s face. “And not only that, there’s divorce papers in there that have already been signed by Johnny. It’s not his signature though…she forged it!”

4

“She can’t do this!” My mom exclaimed and began poring over the papers. “This is the exact reason why we didn’t tell you about our relationship. We were trying to protect you and Johnny from her wrath.” Geoffrey tried to explain. “Yeah and look how well that worked out.” I hissed then narrowed my gaze at my mom. “You never went on a cruise, did you? You were with him the night of the fire!” I accused her. She averted her eyes from mine. “I’m so sorry, Val. I never knew anything like this would happen just because of us.” I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms. “Hello? Have you met Nancy?” I shot back at her sarcastically. “I just want to know why we’re the only ones being punished. Why hasn’t she went after the two of you?”

5

“She has.” Geoffrey admitted. “I have nothing left to my name so there isn’t anything else she can do to me. But your mother lost her job last week…and this morning there was an eviction notice on her apartment door.” I gaped at them in disbelief. “Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me anything?” My mom shrugged sheepishly. “You were dealing with enough already, Val. I didn’t want to add to your burden.” Then suddenly she sat up straight on her stool. “Wait, I’ve got an idea!” She blurted out. “You can counter-sue her!” I groaned and buried my face in the palms of my hands. “How do you think I’m going to pull that off, Mom? I don’t have the money to go up against her and besides, who’s going to take my case? She knows everyone!” I snapped at her. “I know you’re upset but you can lose the attitude, babygirl.” She warned me. “I’m just trying to help. There’s got to be someone who hates her as much as we do.”

6

“Thanks but I’m not going to waste my time on a wild goose chase. I already know what I’m going to do anyways.” I mentioned with a spiteful glint in my eye. “I’m going to visit her this evening and I won’t leave until we can come to some sort of an agreement.” A loud gasp came from my best friend. “That’s just crazy, Val. There’s no telling what will happen and how far that woman will go!” Eva declared but she could tell my mind was already made up. “If there’s no stopping you then at least let me go with you!” She begged. “I can’t drag anyone else into my mess.” I told her while shaking my head no. “This is between Nancy and I. May the best woman win.”

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